I always thought I was going to be the first Jewish president of the United States.
I’m not kidding. I remember very clearly at age 6 memorizing the presidential oath of office so that I would be ready when the time came. And if you think that’s an easy thing to do, think again. During one of my recent random romps through YouTube videos, I came across one that consisted of nothing but the presidential oath being taken by every president from FDR in 1933 to the orange-faced baboon in 2017.
And I was frankly a bit stunned to find that no less than four presidents did not repeat the oath using the exact words the constitution requires. Eisenhower added ‘the’ before president; Johnson said ‘the presidency’ instead of president; Nixon added ‘and’ before protect; and Obama, repeating the words of Chief Justice John Roberts. got the order of words wrong. That happened because Roberts was too arrogant to read from a card with the oath on it, instead winging it figuring he knew it by heart. He didn’t, but I did starting at six years old. Still do, just in case, you never know.
So committed was I was to being the first Jew to occupy the Oval Office that on my eighth grade constitution test, I answered 99 out of 100 questions correctly. I knew my constitution, as a president should (the only question I got wrong was in saying presidential elections are held the first Tuesday in November when in fact they are held the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November.)
The only reason I didn’t follow my youthful inclination and pursue a career in politics was the assassination of John Kennedy. I remember as a young kid being glued to the TV from the moment we learned of the assassination through the funeral and the shooting of Lee Harvey Oswald.
What I remember most is Walter Cronkite. I was smitten by Cronkite, at how masterful he was in handling this huge and emotionally wrenching story, how he told us what was happening and what we needed to know, and yet how he showed us how he was feeling, how devastated he was, just as we all were. He was both superhuman and very human.
From that moment on, I decided a journalist is what I most wanted to be. I could think of no better way to spend one’s life than going out and gathering facts, interviewing people, learning things and coming back and sharing it with readers.
Which is how I found myself at the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University, one of the best journalism schools in the country, after eight years of Orthodox day school, where there were no girls in my class, and four years of yeshiva, where there were no girls in my class. So NU coeds were quite a new experience for me.
What I first liked about it was its name Medill. My mother, like so many Jewish mothers, wanted me to be either a lawyer or a doctor. A doctor I knew I couldn’t be because I get queasy just reading the word blood. And I knew that a lawyer was definitely not something I wanted to waste my life being, a feeling that has only gotten stronger as the years have gone by.
I won’t yet again go into my entire song and dance about lawyers, about their arrogance in charging hundreds, even thousands of dollars for each of their oh so precious hours, how they feel justified making you pay for every single thing they do, from mailing a letter to making a photocopy, how they demand to be retained up front before providing any service, kind of like practioners of the world’s oldest profession.
But what I find most abhorrent about lawyers is how they play games, use word tricks, set traps, are not so much after justice as after winning, outfoxing you, manipulating facts to suit their own ends. Just look at the most prominent lawyers in the news today, the likes of Rudy Giuliani and the worst of them all Alan Dershowitz.
Dershowitz’s evident hunger for the spotlight and for proximity to power has caused him to give up all his principles, especially his Jewish ones. Just recently this pal of Jeffrey Epstein who used his legal wiles to get Epstein a slap on the wrist and avoid charges of sex abuse, sat on the panel of a Fox News show and said not one word as the other panelists trashed a Jew, Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, calling this Purple Heart winner, a traitor and worse. Dershowitz, who paints himself as a super Jew, just sat there and smiled. That, my friends, is a lawyer.
Anyway I digress. I was glad to go to Medill because I could tell my mom I was in the Medill School, which kind of sounds like medical school, so I could give her at least a taste of the nachas she would have preferred.
And so it’s been the journalism life for me and not being the first Jewish president of the United States. Speaking of a Jewish president of the United States, has anyone noticed how extraordinary what is going on is? We at the moment have no less than four Jews running for president. We almost had a fifth in Howard Schultz of Starbucks and now it seems increasingly likely we will indeed have that fifth.
We already have Sen. Bernie Sanders, Sen. Michael Bennet, Marianne Williamson and Tom Steyer, with Michael Bloomberg poised to join in. Five Jews running for president. I often write about how extraordinary things are for Jews these days, but this is truly breathtaking.
Now yes I know Jews being Jews will pick at this nit and that nit. What is their policy on Israel, how Jewish are they really, and, of course, the favorite question of Jews everywhere whenever there is a celebrity who is said to be Jewish, ‘is their mother Jewish?’
Well, Sanders, Williamson and Bloomberg all have both Jewish mothers and fathers. Bennet’s mother is Jewish, his father Christian and Steyer’s father is Jewish and his mother is Christian. Now that we have that out of the way, let’s take a quick look at our Jewish candidates.
Sanders’ father, Elias Ben Yehuda Sanders, was born in Słopnice, Galicia, in Austria-Hungary. In 1921, Elias immigrated to the United States, where he became a paint salesman. His mother, Dorothy (née Glassberg), was born in New York City to Jewish immigrant parents from Poland and Russia. In the 1940s many of Sanders’s relatives in German-occupied Poland were murdered in the Holocaust.
Sanders has said “Being Jewish is so much of what I am” and said that because his father’s family had been “wiped out by Hitler in the Holocaust. I know about what crazy, and radical and extremist politics mean.” In a recent article for a Jewish magazine, he wrote that he is firmly proud to be Jewish and to support Israel. He said that denying the right of Jews to self-determination is anti-Semitic.
“I think it is very important for everyone, but particularly for progressives, to acknowledge the enormous achievement of establishing a democratic homeland for the Jewish people after centuries of displacement and persecution,” Sanders writes about Israel. “It is true that some criticism of Israel can cross the line into anti-Semitism, especially when it denies the right of self-determination to Jews, or when it plays into conspiracy theories about outsized Jewish power.”
We have Sen. Michael Bennet who, in a recent presidential debate, noted that his mother had been separated from her family during the Holocaust — a point made to condemn Trump’s policy of separating migrant families at the border.
The senator’s mother, Susanne, was born into a Jewish family in Warsaw and survived the Holocaust in Poland. She was separated from her parents, who were in the Warsaw Ghetto. The family eventually reunited and lived in Sweden and Mexico before settling in the United States.
Bennet said his mother called him when she learned of Trump’s policy of separating migrant families and asked him what he was doing about it. “I see myself in those kids,” he recalled her saying. “I would say that my family’s experience is something I think about every day,” Bennet has said.
We have self-help author Marianne Williamson — who has said that if she had gotten a better Jewish education, she might have become a rabbi. Williamson was born in Houston, to Samuel “Sam” Williamson, a World War II veteran and immigration lawyer, and Sophie Ann (Kaplan), a homemaker and community volunteer. Her grandparents were Russian Jewish immigrants. Her grandfather changed his surname from Vishnevetsky to Williamson.
Her family attended a Conservative synagogue.
We have billionaire Tom Steyer, who talked about his Jewish father in his announcement video. Steyer is Episcopalian but has expressed pride in his Jewish heritage — and has been the target of anti-Semitism from the far right.
And we have Michael Bloomberg who has donated hundreds of millions of dollars to Jewish causes in the United States and in Israel.
What is amazing is not only how many Jews are running but that no one seems to notice. Not a whisper of anti-Semitism, no anti-Jewish anything, even with two of the Jews being billionaires and thus ripe for stereotyping about Jews and money.
Indeed, I found it mind blowing and the most amazing example of how far Jews have come in this country, that you didn’t hear anything nasty or negative about Jews when one Jew, Sanders, went after another Jew, Bloomberg, on the issue of money.
Sanders attacked Bloomberg, saying he cannot “buy this election. Our campaign is going to end the grotesque level of income and wealth inequality which exists in America today,” Sanders told a rally in Coralville, Iowa. “So tonight we say to Michael Bloomberg and other billionaires: ‘Sorry, you ain’t going to buy this election.’”
Jews are now so accepted, Jews are now so safe, so part of the American scene that Jews can run for president and run against other Jews as just candidates doing what candidates do.
“I think it’s now been clear, really, since Joe Lieberman, that being Jewish is not an impediment for a candidate in a presidential election,” historian Jonathan Sarna said. Sarna also noted that how accepted and no big deal it is for Jews to be at the highest levels of power in this country was seen in 2016 when both major-party nominees had Jewish relatives.
“What was so extraordinary and new in 2016 was that it didn’t matter who won, there would be a Jewish son-in-law,” Sarna said, referring to Ivanka Trump’s husband Jared Kushner and to Marc Mezvinsky, the husband of Chelsea Clinton. “So the barrier that being Jewish once posed does not, I think, anymore affect the way people view candidates. There’s quite a lot of Gallup data that suggests that people are willing to vote for someone who’s Jewish.”
What a country. G-d bless America.