As a result, even Jews who supported the Bush/Cheney ticket have beenrooting, and continue to root, for Lieberman--for his success, that is,as a prominent Jew proudly embracing Jewish observance, in setting a goodexample for the huge number of American Jews with limited knowledge of theirreligious heritage.
In that calculus, it is not Lieberman's political office that is ofultimate importance but rather whether he proves to be an instrument ofkiddush Hashem--of "sanctifying the name of G-d."
And in many ways he has indeed been that. It became widely known--andwidely lauded--that Lieberman had made considerable sacrifices of bothcomfort and honor for the sake of things like the Jewish Sabbath or kashrut (kosher)laws. And his self-identification as, simply, an observant Jew bespoke anadmirable reluctance to "define down" Jewish observance with artificialadjectives, as is so casually and frequently done by so many American Jews.
And so, when questions were raised about specifics of the senator's personalreligious observance, Agudath Israel, the Orthodox Jewish umbrella organization--resolutely refused to jump on the basher-bandwagon. We pointed out, in a phrase later widely borrowed by others--including Lieberman himself--that he was "running for vicepresident, not chief rabbi."
Nevertheless, when the senator carelessly answered some questions aboutJudaism on a nationally syndicated radio program, the very same concern forkiddush Hashem impelled Agudath Israel to take immediate and public issuewith what he said. A prominent observant Jew's every public word or action,after all, has powerful potential for not only good but, G-d forbid, theopposite.
That episode, and, indeed, Lieberman's prominence itself, may hold animportant lesson--maybe even a message--for all of us Jews who aspire to the title"observant."
For the senator is far from the only observant Jew in the public eye thesedays. During the weeks following his nomination, a book about strainedrelations among Jews garnered widespread attention. "Jew vs. Jew," by SamuelG. Freedman, colorfully chronicles several Jewish communal "hot spots" thathave erupted in controversy over recent years. Observant Jews play ratherprominent roles in each of the six stories the book tells.
By association, all American Orthodox Jews, whether we wish it were so ornot, are on display these days, more than ever before. Unfortunately, thereare all too many, even among our fellow Jews, who look at us not withadmiration or even curiosity but with something darker.
Throughout Freedman's book, for instance, it becomes clear thatobservant Jews--not exclusively but especially haredim, those often called "ultra-Orthodox"--are viewed by many Jews less familiar with Jewish observance as spiteful, uncouth or threatening.
Needless to say, most such assumptions have their source in vividimaginations, leavened with healthy doses of guilt and generously sprinkledwith wishful thinking. Freedman himself, with whom my colleague DavidZwiebel and I recently spent some time, confirmed that fact. Among theobservations the author shared with us was the way non-Orthodox Jews incertain communities resent seeing Orthodox Jewish women strolling babies incarriages in the street on the Jewish Sabbath. While it should be obvious,Freedman noted, that few sidewalks are wide enough to accommodate twofriends with their strollers, neighbors rushed to assume that the women walkin the street to prevent others from driving on the Sabbath, or to haughtilystake a claim to the neighborhood.
None of us, of course, can prevent fellow Jews from making unreasonableassumptions. But, at the same time, might some changes in our own conductmore effectively counter them? Could we not help others see us moreaccurately by paying closer attention to the details of our behavior "on thestreet," by engaging in more active outreach to other Jews, by taking careto make sure we present what the Talmud calls a "smiling countenance" and tooffer a "good morning" or "good Shabbos"--the traditional Sabbath greeting--to those we meet who are not from within our community?