October 17, 2012, Athens, Ohio
Like most of the nation, I woke up thinking about the debate, and wondering what kind of jokes I could make about the binder – like, I might leave my invocation speech in the binder, or, I’m glad I wasn’t pulled out of Romney’s rabbi binder and asked to speak – but then I realized, it’s not a joke. Not to me at least. There are hundreds of amazing women in this crowd who have worked their tails off this past year for this campaign. Women like Kathy Hecht, Lisa Eliason, Marika Bresler, and Shannon Welch.
Imagine the scene: It’s Saturday afternoon, after a busy homecoming morning involving Hillel marching in the homecoming parade, swabbing hundreds of alumni and friends as part of our bone marrow registry campaign, I took pictures, hugged lots of old students, and then after hours of smiling, I made my way home and collapsed on my daughters bed as she read me books. It was just at that hour, that the news broke and many people began wondering where President Obama would speak, or if they would be able to get a ticket, or if they could get out of work or class. But in the annals of What Rabbis Think About, I lay there wondering: Who is going to get invited to do the invocation? 20 minutes later, the phone rang.
President Obama: What an honor to be asked to offer words of wisdom, prayer, encouragement this afternoon. It’s amazing to stand before some of your most devoted citizens. Athens is a proud place right now.
I was cleaning out a dresser drawer recently, when I came upon a letter that my son had written to President Obama, about two years ago. Yes, my son had asked me to mail the letter to the white house, but like most parents who cherish the precious things their kids create, I decided to keep it. It reads:
Dear President Obama,
Name five of the laws you made. Please write back five of the laws.
Your friend, Zev Eliezer Haworth.
Aware of my area of expertise, I answered my son not by quoting five laws enacted under the current presidency, but rather answered with the ancient, sacred law code found in Leviticus chapter 19, a holiness code, words and ideas and values written thousands of years ago that hold true to this day, under this current presidency:
Do not stand idle while your neighbor bleeds. You shall rise before the aged and show deference for the old. The stranger who resides with you shall be to you as one of your citizens. You shall not falsify measures of length, weight, or capacity. You shall not pick your vineyard bare, or gather the fallen fruit of your vineyard, you shall leave them for the poor and the stranger.
Character and conviction matter. We are judging not only on accomplishments, we are judging the heart and soul of our leader. Integrity matters. Honesty matters. Love and caring and true empathy matter.
I offer us a meditation, a prayer:
God of the generations, Creator of Humankind, Unifier, Connector. We first offer our gratitude – for the ability to gather, for the powers within our community that move us to action, we’re thankful for the friends we sit by, for the hands we hold in hope, hope that four more years of leadership will be by a man that lifts up the fallen, that feeds the poor, that takes care of the orphan, that sees all people as equal.
God of the generations, Creator of Humankind, we ask that you bless us, and bless the President of our United States of America, with the sound judgment and compassion to gather the fallen fruits of our collective labors, and leave them for the poor and the stranger. Bless us with four more years of leadership by a man who honors those who have come before us, who honors those who have served, whose leadership and legislation makes this country a place where the holy and sacred words of thousands of years ago ring true. And finally, bless us all with strength, for the final 21 days will require much fortitude, little sleep, and a guiding faith that moves us forward.
- Rabbi Danielle Leshaw