There were three Jews prominently featured on the front pages of American newspapers this week: Michael Cohen, Bibi Netanyahu, and Robert Kraft.
Think about that for a moment. As my Bubbie used to say, ‘Oy vey iz mir!’
It started with the Michael Cohen testimony. A congregant came to see me the day he was on the hill and said she had been watching but had turned the TV off, feeling physically sick from what she was seeing. I asked her if it was because of what Cohen’s testimony symbolized in terms of the state of the union, or because he was a Jew? ‘Because he is a Jew,’ she said, ‘because I was watching a Jew stand up in front of the country, in front of the world, talking about cheating others, paying off prostitutes, lying, bullying, seeking power and money at any cost, having no morals or ethics, and serving those with no morals or ethics. I was ashamed.’
Then there was Bibi. Yes, the indictment (s) – it won’t make his life any easier, particularly with an election a little over a month away. But much more disturbing was his willingness to play in the same political sandbox as Otzma Yehudit, a far-right politically organized Israeli group that unabashedly expresses racist views and advocates the ‘removal’ of most if not all Arabs from ‘greater Israel.’ Three men tangentially connected with the group were convicted of setting fire to a school where Jewish and Arab children studied together in 2015. Opposition to Bibi’s willingness to engage this group was so strong that even AIPAC supported a statement from the American Jewish Committee condemning Netanyahu’s actions. When AIPAC is condemning Netanyahu, you know something serious is going on.
Finally, last, and probably least, Robert Kraft. One of the wealthiest men in America, and one of its most prominent Jews, a generous donor to Jewish causes, and best known as the owner of the New England Patriots, Kraft was arrested on charges of soliciting prostitution at a Florida massage parlor. He entered a not guilty plea, but word is there is video tape evidence that will be submitted should things progress to a trial.
When I was going to Hebrew school while growing up we were taught to have pride in the Jewish community, in Jewish identity, and in Judaism’s deep belief in the importance of living a moral and ethical life. We learned that Jews give charity (tzedekah), that Jews make the world a better place (Tikkun olam), that Jews stand for justice (tzedek). And we understood, not just from our Hebrew school teachers, but from our parents and grandparents, that we were supposed to live our lives by those values. That to be a moral and ethical person, to be a person of integrity and honor and honesty, in short to be a mensch – was what it meant to be a Jew.
Perhaps it is just coincidence. Everyone has a bad week here and there. After all, the Golden State Warriors, the best team in basketball, have lost their last two games in a row. But we expect more, and we should. The Torah teaches that Israel is supposed to be a light unto the nations. It is hard enough to do that in the very best of circumstances. With the headlines of the last week about three highly visible and prominent Jews, it makes it feel almost impossible.
In his closing statement at the public phase of the Michael Cohen testimony, Representative Elijah Cummings said ‘we are better than this.’ Jews around the world may be saying the same thing about this week’s news. Let us hope we are right, and let us live our lives accordingly.