Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz and the DNC’s recent condemnation of Senator Rubio’s event at the home of Harlan Crow on the basis of Mr. Crow’s book collection is not only intellectually dishonest, but demonstrates a distinct and offensive lack of knowledge about Jewish practices and beliefs; all the more disturbing since Rep. Schultz is a Jew.
On Kol Nidrei eve, as Jews around the world prepared their souls for self scrutiny and an honest appraisal of how to make themselves and the world a better place; Sen. Rubio held a fundraiser at Mr. Crow’s home in Dallas. Although I have not been to his home, Mr. Crow apparently has a significant collection of historical artifacts, documents, and records that goes all the way back to items belonging to President Lincoln. As part of that collection, he has a signed copy of “Mein Kampf”, as well as at least one of Hitler’s paintings.
Rep. Schultz proceeded to condemn Senator Rubio, saying, “hosting an event in a house featuring the artwork and signed autobiography of a man who dedicated his life to extinguishing the Jewish people the height of insensitivity and indifference”, and that “Mr. Rubio should cancel the tasteless fundraiser”.
A comment like Ms. Schultz’s, especially given that she is a Jew and especially during this holy time in our calendar, is beyond offensive to any person with any knowledge of Jewish practices and beliefs. I do not know Mr. Crow, but it is clear given the size and breadth of his collection (which includes a statue of Margaret Thatcher) that he is not a “Hitler-phile” who is infatuated with the Nazi perpetrator of evil; but rather is a lover of history…an important Jewish value. For Ms. Schultz to condemn this love, and then attack the Senator on a personal level for being involved with a historian is both antithetical to our faith tradition, and demands an apology from her.
We are a religion committed to remembering. Throughout the recent High Holidays, we constantly are asking God to remember things; and our liturgy is filled with historical memories to help us stay emotionally and intellectually in touch with our past. We “never forget”, and the Bible itself is a historical document that often features the actions of our persecutors and enemies. It is an important part of our tradition, and reminds us of how God saved us from those persecutors throughout the ages, inspiring us to deepen our faith today. Our holiday of Tisha B’Av is entirely devoted to this concept, as we remember the many Jews killed throughout the ages; going back all the way to the destruction of the First Temple over 2500 years ago. The entire Biblical Book of Lamentations is devoted to this memory of the Temple’s destruction, and to what happened in the aftermath. Remembering not only the joys, but the horrors and losses is an important part of Jewish theology, and a practice that Ms. Schultz and the DNC should be familiar with. We are a people who remember so that we can learn, understand, and never repeat the mistakes of the past. Without historical collectors like Mr. Crow, it would not be long before anti-Semites might say that Men Kampf was not even written by Hitler, and then start the discussion that Hitler “really wasn’t so bad after all”. From a Jewish perspective, collections like his have an important part in understanding the past so that we always remember the truth; and create a better world as a result of that memory.
Would Ms. Schultz have us remove the Book of Lamentations from the Bible as well? When we remember the horrors that happened, whether 2500 years or 75 years ago, it inspires us to be grateful to God for helping us to survive the horrors; and helps us rededicate ourselves to creating a better future. I respect the difference of opinions that Ms. Schultz and the DNC has with Sen. Rubio, but to attack him for being in a home which has an historical collection is entirely inappropriate.
As a Jew, it is my religious obligation to be involved in the policies and politics of my community, in order to “pursue justice” (Deut. 16:20). Jewish beliefs dictate that we are involved so as to make the world a better place; and whether it is the friendship between Rabbi Judah HaNasi and the Roman Emperor Antonius two thousand years ago, or Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel marching arm in arm with Dr. King in Selma in 1965, there is an ancient history of being involved in our communities.
But that involvement must be done with integrity and in harmony with our faith. Personal attacks cannot and should not be made. Disagreements and debate are a primary part of Talmudic discourse; but based upon ideas and not personal attacks (we see in the Talmudic tractate Bava Metzia 84a how two great Sages die as a result of a personal character attack). As Jews, we must make sure that we personally keep to these boundaries, and demand the same from our leaders on both sides of the aisle. We must not tolerate personal attacks on any candidate, but rather debate and dialogue about actions and beliefs.
History has taught us many things, and one of those is how we must treat each other if we want to survive and flourish as a community, nation, and world. When a candidate, official, or leader like Ms. Schultz makes comments that are so inappropriate, we must take a stand. We are taught that the Second Temple was destroyed because of “baseless hatred”, and we must be students of history and not allow that to happen in our great nation.
Ms. Schultz: As a Jew and a leader in our nation, please publicly apologize for the attack on Mr. Rubio and Mr. Crow. I have faith that you are a better person than this action dictates; please show the world that Jewish values are ethical, treasure and learn from history, and always respect an ideological opponent. Be an example to all of us, and don’t let baseless hatred get in the way of righteous action.
Rabbi Michael Barclay is the Spiritual Leader of Temple Ner Simcha in Westlake Village, CA (www.nersimcha.org); and the author of “Sacred Relationships: Biblical Wisdom for Deepening Our Lives Together” (Lit Press 2013). He can be reached directly at RabbiBarclay@aol.com