One of the differences separating Catholics and Jews is that while Catholics create saints, Jews habitually find all kinds of flaws in their leaders. But that's not why I am not yet joining the bandwagon to canonize New York's new patron saint, the honorable Rudolph W. Giuliani. Neither can the reason for my reluctance to shout his name from the rooftops be attributed to his many past controversies, because I know something of controversy myself. Rather, it's something much closer to home.

When I first arrived back in the United States after nearly sixteen years abroad (three in Israel, two in Australia, eleven in the United Kingdom), my wife and I rejected New York City as a home and settled comfortably into New Jersey because, wanting to see the occasional tree and blade of grass, we had no idea that we were moving into a sprawling petrochemical plant. Now I know that living in Jersey is something that one seeks to conceal for fear of being permanently ostracized in intellectual circles. Moreover, this shame of being a resident of the Garden State (strange euphemism indeed) has only grown since September 11, when New Jersey increased its notoriety as the state that harbors terrorists, mails anthrax, and has the worst airport security this side of Beirut (can't New Jersey ever get a break?). So I rather quickly joined the ranks of those who do not live in New Jersey, but rather live "just outside New York." Becoming a New Yorker entailed two irreducible elements: first, looking down at people from New Jersey. And second, having a strong opinion on Rudy Giuliani.

Everywhere I went Giuliani's name was on people's lips, nearly as much as Sharon's is in Israel. There was a wide range of opinion. My artsy bohemian friends from the Village positively loathed the man. "He got rid of the street vendors and made the city such a boring place. He tried to censor that artist at the Brooklyn Museum who put elephant dung on the Virgin Mary. What a fascist!" This excoriation continued with my politically liberal Jewish friends for whom any Republican is just one step above a resident of New Jersey. "Giuliani is a bully whose conservative policies are robbing the poor of their dignity and their homes," they complained. But most vitriolic of all were my African-American friends. "Shmuley, stop defending this man," they told me. "His police have orders to shoot any black man in the back if he so much as picks up a broom handle."

Then, of course, came September 11, and everything changed. Giuliani has now been voted Time Magazine's Person of the Year and is celebrated throughout the United States as "America's Mayor." Time even included the extraordinary statistic that 94 percent of Americans agreed that Giuliani had done "a good or very good" job responding to the terrorist attacks. (Giuliani was also one of Beliefnet's 10 Most Inspiring People of the Year.)

And here's where I weigh in with my two cents. I never agreed with the attacks on Giuliani. What I saw was a man who was tough on crime, who brought order to an increasingly chaotic city, cleaned up its sleazy districts, like 42nd St. and Times Square, and made them fit for families again. Sure he was brash and sometimes insensitive, but hey, he's a New Yorker, right? As a Jew I was even more indebted to Giuliani. Was he not the man who had refused entry to Yasser Arafat at a New York concert gala for world leaders because the man was an unrepentant terrorist? And this debt of gratitude only increased when he returned Saudi Prince al-Waleed bin Talal's $10 million donation to 9/11 relief efforts, when the donation was accompanied by a letter blaming Israel for the terrorist atrocities.

But there is still one issue that, in my opinion, prevents this extraordinary man from ascending the final peak of greatness: his treatment of his wife during their highly acrimonious separation. This is an issue that I simply cannot overlook. It's just too personal for me. I was the youngest of five children raised by a divorced mother. I know the pain of a woman when she loses a husband, whoever is to blame, and is charged with starting a new life in a world that esteems men in their fifties and devalues women of the same age.

To be sure, divorce is never pleasant, and sometimes, tragically, cannot be avoided. But there is simply no excuse whatsoever to unleash one's lawyer, in this case the celebrity divorce attorney Raoul Felder (whom I once debated on the BBC on the subject of infidelity), and allow comments in one's name- "uncaring mother," "twisted motives"-about one's marital partner of sixteen years and the mother of one's children.

But it got much worse. Felder said Donna Hanover was "howling like a stuck pig" and that the next mayor would have to drag her out of Gracie Mansion "from the chain of the chandeliers." For a few weeks, Felder continued in that vein as he sought to portray Ms. Hanover as an unfeeling wife who remained in a loveless marriage to further her acting career.

Lest we be persuaded that Felder did this on his own initiative, the New York Times quoted Felder as saying that "he initiated criticism with full support of Giuliani and as part of [the mayor's] strategy."

I don't seek to judge Giuliani. He must have been in a tremendous amount of pain himself to unleash such vitriol against the woman he once loved. But with all the hero-worship surrounding him at present, someone like me, who bore personal witness to the forgotten woman who helps make a man's career and raises his children, wonders how his estranged wife must feel. Was she not the woman who stood by him in his gradual rise to the top of New York politics? Did she not stick by him after he lost his first mayoral race to David Dinkins in 1988? And if she did persevere through all the horrors, challenges, and ignominies of being the wife of a politician, should she not, even now, receive some of the credit for his towering triumph as the man who saved New York?

To be sure, they were separated long before September 11, but a real hero has the humility and generosity of heart to acknowledge the contribution of all the significant influences that led to his achievements, even if some have since fallen away. A hero is someone who not only basks in the spotlight but deflects some of that light to those who helped him ascend. And it is specifically those who have risen from the ashes-and Giuliani's political obituary had already been written just a few months ago-who best understand the need for those who toiled and labored to receive just a little measure of credit.

Rudy Giuliani, like all of us, has been transformed by Sept. 11. He is a different person. Will this transformation allow him to rise above the acrimony generated by him and his wife and offer her lasting and affectionate gratitude, even as they now go their separate ways? One of the most beautiful benefits of success is the ability to be magnanimous. If he rises to the occasion, he will not only have surmounted the last obstacle to eminence. He will not only be a hero to millions of New Yorkers. He'll be a hero to his kids.

more from beliefnet and our partners
Close Ad