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President Obama’s Yom Kippur moment

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on 12 Comments

This is part of Marc H. Ellis’s “Exile and the Prophetic” feature for Mondoweiss. To read the entire series visit the archive page.

Will President Obama observe Yom Kippur this year?  Don’t laugh. 

Though every American President has to be a religious person for political reasons, by all accounts Obama has a moderate Christian religiosity.  Besides, he’s very close to Jews and holds the Jewish tradition in high regard.  He also wants a post-Presidential life, including a fantastic fully-funded Presidential library that high-flying Jewish donors will support.  Observing Yom Kippur is an Obama no-brainer.

Whatever a person’s faith or level of religious observance, the Beltway synagogues are the right place to be during the most sober day on the Jewish calendar.  Whether you’re Jewish or not, being Jewishly observant has become a political plus.  Jews who hold or want to hold power will be there.  The intermarried power brokers – of which there are many – will be in synagogue, too.  Politicians from both sides of the aisle don’t want to rain on the AIPAC parade.

Rest assured the leaders of AIPAC won’t be taking Yom Kippur off.  Our Jewish paragons of virtue will be lobbying inside Washington synagogues.  After all, AIPAC’s “redemptive” work is unfinished.  The missiles aimed at Syria need promoting.   Iran’s threat to Israel – and America – has to be boldly highlighted.  Burying Iran is AIPAC’s version of the last great hope of humankind.  Otherwise, God’s judgment on America is assured.

Working the synagogue crowd isn’t exactly AIPAC’s cup of tea but if you have to don a kippah and suck up a couple of hours of religious tedium well, think of it as part of the job.  That doesn’t mean Yom Kippur can’t be jazzed up and made more media friendly.  I’m wondering if a red carpet Yom Kippur watch like the Academy Awards ceremony might worth pondering.

Think, for example, how televised interviews could enlighten the nation on the virtue of religious observance with political import.  My personal favorite would be Joan Rivers interviewing the intermarried Samantha Power, a wannabe Jew. Since Power has confessed her earlier sins for questioning Israel’s righteousness and now holds forth at the United Nations with such high mindedness on striking Syria for its sins, she’d make for a powerful Yom Kippur interview.

Joan Rivers could frame it this way:  It takes a repentant sinner like Power to recognize the power of God’s forgiveness.  Repenting of her sin against Israel, God granted her a second chance political life.  Second chances speak to the larger Christian audience about the power of God’s forgiveness.  In fact, Rivers could move into Christian “born again” territory.  Power might have a future as an iconic figure in Christian evangelical circles.

The day of confession and judgment is indeed a challenge for Jews and our new found fellow empire travelers. Weighing in on God’s judgment day is the place to be.  But, though, confession is good for the soul, when we’re faced with that judgment moment we often freeze.  Called to confess we go silent.

President Obama’s speech to the nation Tuesday could be an occasion for the beginning of his confession – and our nations.  I doubt he’ll take advantage of the opportunity.  Instead, the President will seek the moral high ground, speaking of the sins of the Syrian regime and the righteousness of those who just say no to the use of chemical weapons.

But what if at the last moment the President stood up for himself, America and the world and confessed that his redlines have shifted toward a peace to be shared in justice by all?   What if he told the nation, the Jewish community and AIPAC that justice for Palestinians and the lifting of martial law in Egypt was a prerequisite for further discussions on Syria?  What if the President said that with Yom Kippur upon us, people of all faiths should join in discernment about our nation’s foreign policy and seek another direction?

On Tuesday night, President Obama has the opportunity to turn a superficial politically advantageous Yom Kippur into the real thing.  Then Yom Kippur would be a confessional surprise for everyone – including God.

Marc H. Ellis
About Marc H. Ellis

Marc H. Ellis is Professor of History and Jewish Studies and Director of the Center for the Study of the Global Prophetic. His latest book is Finding Our Voice: Embodying the Prophetic and Other Misadventures.

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12 Responses

  1. hophmi
    September 9, 2013, 10:23 am

    ” What if he told the nation, the Jewish community and AIPAC that justice for Palestinians and the lifting of martial law in Egypt was a prerequisite for further discussions on Syria?”

    What if the sky was green and Martians ruled the earth? What if Stalin had survived another 25 years? What if America was in China? What if China was Iceland?

    Who cares?

    Do you have anything to say other than alternate universe non-sequitors, Marc?

    • seafoid
      September 9, 2013, 5:48 pm

      I love Zionist realpolitik.

      The guy who had sand kicked in his face now walks behind the US and kicks sand in everyone’s face. That’s how you get respect.
      Sure it’s forever.

      Cruelty doesn’t sit well on Israel’s shoulders. The need for hasbara says Israelis really worry about things like how Israel is thought of

    • Cliff
      September 9, 2013, 7:19 pm

      hoppie said:

      Who cares?

      Do you have anything to say other than alternate universe non-sequitors, Marc?

      The only alternate universe non-sequiturs that the Zionist troll is concerned about is whether that random Palestinian was ever going to be able to fulfil his/her plot of throwing the Jews into the sea.

      Worthless alternative universe non-sequiturs only come into play when it comes to hypothetical Palestinian violence – which the Zionist troll places on a pedestal whilst saying:

      Yes, I think it’s also a fair point that no one really discusses the Irgun in the real world. They accept the Israel is there to stay and that most country have had bloody beginnings.

      Yes, we know the Palestinians have less weaponry than the Israelis. We also know that Hamas has tried to blow up gas depots and apartment building, which would have caused hundreds, if not thousands, of Israeli casualties.

      Are you being honest about the Irgun’s history, which is as a tiny group that was out of the mainstream but was basically fighting British imperialism? No. You’re standing up for British imperialism.

      Short version: Hoppy is a Jewish fascist and supports terrorism so long as it’s Jewish terrorism.

      ‘Bloody beginnings’ is ok so long as it’s a means to an end for Jewish terrorists and colonists like hoppy.

      But if it’s Hamas – it’s apparently an other-worldly level of terror! Naziesque! Pure evil! Oh those poor poor schoolchildren of S’Derot!

      Those rockets are truly horrrrrrifying! It’s like another Shoah!

      Oh but those Gazans? What’s the Zionist troll’s script?

      Zionist troll: They brought it on themselves/ Hamas TV/ suicide bombers/ human shields/ Hamas charter – oh what were we talking about? Oh you’re an antisemite.

      • K Renner
        K Renner
        September 11, 2013, 10:40 am

        Perfect post– hophmi is the textbook example of your average Israeli hypocrite.

        Complains about British imperialism and justifies Israeli militant expansionism, as well as justifying the actions of the Irgun and Lehi, who bombed Palestinian civilians in order to cause unrest and provoke a Palestinian response, as well as to frighten the Palestinian population in general and to make things harder for the British authorities.

        I wouldn’t put it past him to try and justify Deir Yassin or any of the other arbitrary killings or forced expulsions perpetrated by the Zionist militants– he does try to “justify” the Nakba on the whole, anyways.

  2. Citizen
    September 9, 2013, 12:25 pm

    Has anybody heard a high American Roman Catholic leader point out that the Pope’s against a US-led strike on Syria? Just wondering.

    • James Canning
      James Canning
      September 9, 2013, 2:28 pm

      Good question, Citizen.

    • Walid
      September 9, 2013, 4:05 pm

      Citizen, the Catholic Bishops as well as other Christian leaders are on top of this subject; from NBC today:

      America’s Christians mobilize against Syria strike ahead of Hill votes

      By Carrie Dann, NBC News

      American Christian organizations across the political spectrum are mobilizing their networks nationwide to urge Congress to oppose authorization for a U.S. strike in Syria.

      The advocacy arms of the Presbyterian, United Church of Christ, United Methodist, Evangelical Lutheran and Catholic churches are among the groups in the United States urging members to contact their representatives in DC to urge a no vote on the resolution next week.

      The civil war in Syria poses a dilemma for people of faith; after the killing of women and children, reportedly at the order of Syrian President Bashar Assad, could intervention be justified to prevent more death – either by further chemical attacks inside Syria or by a spreading regional conflict? Or would the violence of such a strike backfire by sparking more violence in Syria against minority faith groups – particularly Christians – who are more fearful of persecution under anti-Assad forces than under the current regime?

      “We have found ourselves between a rock and a hard place of a false dichotomy; to do nothing or to replay violence with violence, and death with death,” Rev. Eliza Buchakjian-Tweedy, pastor of First Church Congregational in Rochester, New Hampshire, told her United Church of Christ congregation in a sermon last Sunday.

      • Walid
        September 9, 2013, 4:09 pm


        U.S. Bishops urge President Obama to avoid military intervention in Syria

        (Vatican Radio) U.S. Catholic Bishops have written to President Obama urging him not to resort to military intervention but instead work to end the violence in Syria through a political solution. The letter was signed by the president of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York and Bishop Richard Pates of Des Moine, Chair of the Committee on International Justice and Peace. Susy Hodges spoke to Bishop Pates and asked him how optimistic they were that Obama would heed their plea to avoid a military strike.<Blockquote/<

  3. Walid
    September 9, 2013, 1:51 pm

    Somebody sent me this 10 minute tongue-lashing Obama got on Fox News; almost made me feel sorry for the guy. I wouldn’t want that lady judge on my case. She ends her tirade by asking for the Nobel to be given back..

    • seanmcbride
      September 9, 2013, 2:32 pm


      Holy crap — Jeannine Pirro ripped Obama to shreds, effectively, scoring on every point — on Fox News. It’s a strange world we live in when many Fox News pundits are making much better sense than many Democratic Party leaders.

      Two main outcomes from Obama’s fiasco and bungling:

      1. The Democratic Party has been significantly damaged.

      2. The campaign to attack Iran has been derailed.

      Obama should fire John Kerry, Susan Rice and Samantha Power — they played key roles in pushing him into this mess, over the best advice of the JCS.

  4. W.Jones
    September 9, 2013, 3:13 pm

    Repenting of her sin against Israel, God granted her a second chance political life. Second chances speak to the larger Christian audience about the power of God’s forgiveness. In fact, Rivers could move into Christian “born again” territory. Power might have a future as an iconic figure in Christian evangelical circles.

    I think she “repented” because it was demanded of her, and anyway it was probably not such a deeply intended “sin” anyway. Becoming a born again evangelical probably won’t be demanded of her, although theoretically it could be demanded for “fun”. If you woke up without enough sleep you might imagine that things like having a president named B. Hussein Obama was for fun.

  5. RoHa
    September 9, 2013, 9:31 pm

    “Repenting of her sin against Israel, God granted her a second chance political life.”

    Even in context, this sentence means that God repented of God’s sin against Israel, and granted Israel a second chance political life.

    In sentences of this pattern, the subject of the participle is always the subject of the main clause.

    To make “repent” refer to Rivers, the sentence should be “She repented of her sin against Israel, and so God …”

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