From time immemorial, members of Klal Yisroel have always been involved in advocacy efforts on behalf of the Jewish people. Some call it shtadlonus, others call it askonus. However you decide to coin the term is not really that important. What is important is to understand that Jewish advocacy has been alive and well since the days of Moshe Rabbeinu.
In fact, it can perhaps be said that Moshe Rabbeinu was our very first askan. In the upcoming parshios, we find Klal Yisroel’s greatest leader advocating on behalf of the Jewish people. And before who? The evil King Pharoah, of all people! One can only wonder what the headlines might have looked like in those days, especially the accompanying comments section. Nevertheless the fact is that throughout the millennia, while our goals and missions may have changed, we have always relied on the individuals and leaders who plead on our behalf. And that is how it will be till the end of days, until Moshiach comes.
Several days ago I saw an article reporting that Dovid Lichtenstein, a prominent Real Estate executive, will be hosting a Reception benefitting the Presidential campaign of Hillary Clinton. For the record, let me state that I am not representing either Mr. Lichtenstein or Mrs. Clinton, and have not shared these remarks with either one of them. I would like to make that perfectly clear.
In fact, this op-ed is not being written in support of Hillary Clinton’s candidacy. I would urge others who support the various Republican candidates to host similar functions. Rather my point is to address the self proclaimed spokespeople of our community who criticize anyone and everyone who do not share their narrow definition of what is allowable political engagement. Of corse only in the name of Daas Torah.
The purpose of this op-ed is not defending Dovid Lichtenstein but rather to encourage him to continue his efforts. Dovid Lichtenstein does not need to engage on our behalf. I’ve been at his Shabbos table once and I’m sure I speak for all those who know him by saying that he would rather be sitting in a Beis Medrash learning Torah than anywhere else. His home is a place filled with Torah learning and one can easily recognize his scholarship by listening to “Headlines”, his weekly radio program. I’m sure he would prefer to be learning than hosting political candidates.
There are naysayers among us who just don’t get it. They sit in front of their computers pontificating about the interaction of askonim with political candidates. Do they honestly think that supporting a candidate means endorsing everything he or she stands for? I would hope that most people realize that politics is more nuanced and complicated than that. But not the self righteous pontificaters. They are, after all, on the side of the Torah, and consider themselves the true lamdonim.
Their protests remind me of a story I’ve heard many times from my father, the Liska Rebbe, Shlita.
It is said that the Vilna Gaon once asked the Dubna Maggid to give him mussar. The Maggid, of course, looked at him incredulously. “How can I give Mussar to the holy Gaon?” he wondered. “This is a man who sits all day in tallis and tefillin surrounded by seforim. It’s impossible.”
But the Gaon insisted, so the Maggid finally responded. “Is it really such a kuntz (accomplishment),” he wondered aloud, “to be the holy Vilna Gaon within your own daled amos? Let’s see if you could be a Vilna Gaon when you go out into the world!” Thus did the Gaon take it upon himself to go into golus.
To me, the moral of the story is as follows – It’s very easy for individuals to take the high road and sit comfortably at home while criticizing individuals, whether they are business people or askonim, who are trying to help the community for generally altruistic purposes. In fact, it has become fashionable in our community, as in other communities, to attack the top one percent. But they don’t realize that askonus is a profession, requiring specific talents and abilities. Indeed, there are many ways to serve the community. There are Rabbonim, Rebbeim, Gevirim and there are Askonim. What they all share is an achrayus to serve Klal Yisroel and help our community.
As a professional who engages in public relations consulting and as someone who clearly does not consider my services as askonis , I‘ve observed several of these askonim. I value their service and I can vouch as to the effectiveness of their efforts. Without getting into the details, I can say with full certainty that many a yiddishe mama’s tears have not been shed as a direct result of the efforts of askonim who have made it their priority to solve communal problems. And yes, often solving communal problems is a direct result of interaction and relationships with those very elected officials with whom relationships were formed as candidates. I also recognize that not all askonim are created equal or have the rights intentions or methods. I get that. But to label everyone negatively is discouraging further generations of communal leaders which can be a detriment to Klal Yisroel.
We are currently in the midst of a Presidential campaign. There are over three hundred million people in the United States, and of that only a handful can realistically become our next President. In all likelihood, in the next several months that will be narrowed down even further to former Secretary of State Clinton on the Democratic side and one of several Republican hopefuls. Thus it wouldn’t be too much a stretch of the imagination to suggest that Dovid Lichtenstein may very well be hosting the next President of the United States. And if Mrs. Clinton should in fact become President, I have no doubt that this meeting will serve to benefit the Jewish people. I don’t know exactly how, but I am convinced of it.
So when people take to criticizing, their comments may seem noble on the surface especially when they say that Hillary’s positions are not in sync with the Jewish community’s beliefs and are anathema to our traditions But their statements are demagogic.
Why is this? I’ve observed how other communities are so proud when someone in their own circle interacts with or hosts a future president. They realize the value it brings to their cause. We, instead, tear them down. In fact, we have a history of tearing them down. The Jewish people of the time even criticized Moshe Rabbeinu, so perhaps Mr. Lichtenstein is in good company after all.
I’m obviously not comparing Dovid Lichtenstein to Moshe Rabbeinu. I’m just suggesting that there are many ways to serve our people. And if Dovid Lichtenstein has the capacity to host a reception to benefit a possible future President, that should present an opportunity for us to pause and praise him for his role.
For those who make the argument that “it’s all about money” in a derogatory manner, my response to them is simply that Lichtenstein didn’t make up the rules of this game. And yes, fundraising happens to be an integral element of a Presidential campaign. So much so that the Supreme Court just recently enhanced that ability. That’s just the way it is.
I’d like to consider myself an amateur student of history. We all know that during the Holocaust there were those who could have influenced President Roosevelt’s decisions to help the Jews in Europe but chose not to. Then there was Peter Bergson, not quite a political insider, yet dramatically more effective in raising public awareness about the atrocities in Europe than the others. My approach is that sometimes we need both.
Our community is small. And while we are few in number, our needs are great. Having a future President hosted by a businessman who is a ben Torah and a marbitz Torah can shine positively for us all. I believe with all my heart that Reb Dovid Lichtenstein’s hosting a possible future President will yield tangible results for the Jewish people in many ways. Let us all for once agree with those sentiments.
Ezra Friedlander is the CEO of The Friedlander Group a public policy consulting firm based in NYC and Washington, DC. Follow him on Twitter @EzraFriedlander. He may contacted at www.TheFriedlanderGroup.com [email protected]
NOTE: The views expressed here are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of YWN
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