By Jonathan Mark, Jewish Week
I’m getting a hunch the Republicans just might win for one reason alone, and it makes no sense, just like Chabad makes no sense to the Jewish elite.
That one reason is Sarah Palin. She reminds me of about a thousand different Chabad shluchot (the rebbe’s women representatives). She’s seems friendly, attractive in an Orthodox way, with that indescribable magnetism and accessibility that has made Chabad shluchot successful in 5,000 different locales, even though they are often considerably more right-wing — religiously and politically — than their congregants and financial supporters.
Democrats don’t get it, anymore than Reform and Conservative and other Orthodox Jews don’t get it. How is Chabad is so successful in places where there are no Chasidim? Why do liberal on the Upper West Side want to send kids to Chabad pre-schools? Why do many hundreds of non-Chasidic, even non-Orthodox students at Harvard and SUNY Binghamton want to spend Friday night meals with these Chabad Sarah Palins rather than the more mainstream, liberal Jews down the road? It makes no sense.
Don’t get it, do you?
Who would you rather have a cup of coffee with on a bungalow porch, a cup that can turn into a three-hour conversation, Sarah Palin or Nancy Pelosi?
Sarah Palin is like those Chabad women who can get women from Riverdale to show up for anyone of a dozen different Chabad women’s programs. Nancy Pelosi and Hillary Clinton seem like school marms of a school you don’t want to go to. Pelosi, in particular, seems like one of those Sisterhood program chairs from a suburban temple whose calls you don’t want to answer.
Sarah Palin seems like one of those Chabad women who don’t have enough chairs at her table for all the non-Chabad women, from Argentina and Casablanca, the Bronx and Los Angeles, who’d take a plane or a subway to attend the next shluchot convention in Crown Heights.
Something’s happening and you don’t know what it is, do you, Nancy Pelosi?
Rabbis who think a good speech only means repeating what Rashi said don’t get it. Rabbis who quote Heschel or Soloveitchik way too often don’t get it.
Americans and Jews don’t need another genius. We don’t need another Herr Rabbi Doctor. We have enough “scholars,” believe it or not.
We don’t have enough human beings who’d rather rock a Down Syndrome baby to sleep rather than abort it; human beings who can relate to a flunking child or the stuffiness of the sophisticates. There are plenty of logical, rational reasons to abort America’s relationship with Israel, also. Chabad doesn’t abort. Evangelicals don’t either.
We have too many of the best and the brightest, the wise and the brilliant, who can’t communicate (and who, in the end, aren’t really the best or all that brilliant.)
The genius of Chabad is delivering their message a down-home way, much as Sarah Palin did at the convention.
There are others outside of Chabad know how to do it, too. Blu Greenberg, for one, the godmother of Orthodox feminism, is as smart and wise as anyone I’ve ever met, but she doesn’t enter a room like she wants you to know what she got on her SATs (or BJEs). Her voice and manner are gentle, her visions for Judaism are prophetic and compelling, all the more so because her Judaism is poetic (she’s a published poet, after all), not like the Nancy Pelosi-types whose Judaism sounds like a term paper, all about “J,” “P,” Deutero-Isaiah; the kind who can’t look at any biblical verse with being “troubled” by it.
Chabad women know what really troubles people, and it ain’t Deutero-Isaiah.
It was 68 years ago this August that a group of black-clad Holocaust refugees, Chabad Chasidim, made a down payment on a house, 770 Eastern Parkway. In that summer of 1940, most American Jews heard of Reform, almost no one of Chabad.
Who would have figured that in 2008, men and women from Chabad would be all over the planet, raising fortunes (without charging shul membership fees), getting men to put on tefillin, getting women to go to mikvah — men and women who, if not for Chabad, wouldn’t. It makes no sense.
Chabad women, like Sarah Palin, don’t look at Judaism, or the United States, and then look at the world to worry “why do they hate us?” They don’t blame Judaism or America first. They don’t think “bitterness” is what motivates religious people. You come away feeling that these kind of women understand religion and love America like they love their kids, troubles and all, feeling blessed every step of the way.
The high-salaried great scholars of the other denominations, none of whom went to the University of Idaho, are very good at conducting studies, at going on high-priced retreats, at developing goalposts that can be moved to allow past failures to score.
Chabad women don’t conduct studies. They cook a chicken (or, Sarah Palin, a moose) and invite you over on Friday night. And everyone — from college students to middle-class families to billionaire businessmen — wants to be there. At the beginning of these successful relationships, theology and politics having little or nothing to do with it.
The other party and denominations are trying to figure it out. Maybe they can get a grant. Maybe they can dialogue.
Chabad women and Sarah Palin don’t dialogue. They talk. And they don’t talk down.
They win. Makes no sense, does it?