With President Barack Obama’s reelection only a few days in the rear view mirror, the topic of the Jewish role in American politics is still brewing — and we learned some tantalizing details about Mitt Romney’s summer trip to Israel.
Democratic and Republican operatives sparred over the importance of the Jewish vote in the just-completed election at the only session devoted to discussing the results at the Jewish Federations of North America’s General Assembly.
Tevi Troy, a former George W. Bush adviser who consulted the Romney campaign on Jewish issues, said the big headline coming out of the election had nothing to do with Jews.
Insteaed, it concerned the fast-growing Latino vote, which went strongly for Obama, prompting much hand-wringing about the future of the GOP.
“People are going to wonder going forward,” Troy said, “how much the Jewish vote really matters.”
Mitt Romney has out Bibi-ed Bibi.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is famous for saying that history is repeating itself. The way he tells it, we’re in the late 1930s, and today’s Nazis are the leaders of the Iranian regime, who threaten Israel’s future and perpetrate attacks like the recent one in Bulgaria through its proxies.
This morning, the Republican presidential candidate took Netanyahu’s penchant for linking history and present challenges, but outdid him by almost two millennia. Instead of being the Nazis who foreshadowed threats to Israel today, he managed to connect them to the events being mourned today, the Fast of Av, beginning with the destruction of the two ancient Jerusalem temples and the suffering that went along with it.
Planning Romney’s Israel trip for the Fast of Av was a gaffe by his campaign, but he was determined to turn it to his advantage, even going a little overboard and effusing that he was “honored” to be in Israel on the fast, as if it were a long-planned act of solidarity with Ancient Israel.
“I’m honored to be here on the day of Tisha B’Av, to recognize the solemnity of the day and also the suffering of the Jewish people over the centuries and the millennia, and come with recognition of the sacrifices of so many,” he told Netanyahu. “Unfortunately, the tragedies of wanton killing are not only things of the past, but have darkened our skies in even more recent times.”
I agonized over this. We’re now in the nine-day mourning period approaching Tisha B’Av. Music is not appropriate. Can we observe by listening to music of the season? Well, I decided to go with it. It’s for those who haven’t thought of observing the mourning period, to get you in the mood. There are versions of Psalm 137 (“By the Rivers of Babylon, there we sat down and wept”) in Hebrew and English, from reggae, Israeli, medieval Italian baroque and American pop. Also several songs of yearning for Jerusalem, by Naomi Shemer, Meir Ariel and Paul Simon. Plus some numbers on homelessness and wandering, courtesy of Bruce Springsteen, Woody Guthrie and James Taylor. Also the English (Joan Baez) and original Yiddish (Chava Alberstein) versions of “Donna, Donna” about calves who let themselves be led like, well, lambs to the slaughter.
The first number couldn’t be anything but “Al Naharot Bavel,” By the Waters of Babylon. The words are from Psalm 137 and tell of the exiles weeping after the destruction of the First Temple on the ninth of Av, 586 BCE: “By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down, yea we wept when we remembered Zion.” This is the classic version many of us remember, performed by Basya Schechter.