How do we as a community reconcile Sheldon Adelson’s boundless generosity to Jewish institutions with the knowledge that his political contributions and alliances undermine Jewish values and beliefs? The Jewish community is and should be immensely grateful for Mr. Adelson’s generosity to its many programs and institutions. Birthright, for example, has sent thousands of young Jews to Israel, who would not likely have gone otherwise. His willingness to fund many Jewish day schools and educational programs, regardless of whether he shares their religious observance or social values, is admirable. But have we given Mr. Adelson's chosen presidential candidate Mitt Romney more latitude because Mr. Adelson gives so generously to us?
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One of the most sacred core values of Judaism is tikkun olam, repairing the world. Embraced in this concept are many familiar themes, often found in other religions as well. That we pursue justice, treat strangers justly, honor our parents, care for each other, recognize the humanity of each and every human being and do what we can to leave the world a better place than we found it.
Romney may preach, but does not practice, these values. As has been well publicized, he has stated his disinterest in 47% of the American population. He supports proposals that do not honor our elders by replacing Medicare with vouchers and a willingness to reduce Social Security benefits while providing tax breaks to the millionaires not dependent on such benefits to live. He is entirely too comfortable with dismantling the social and economic safety net, in place for generations, that many rely on, especially in difficult economic times.
Yes, I am a Democrat and a strong supporter of President Obama and his vision for our country. Much of my support for him comes from my core Jewish values. And yes, I do believe that there was a time when the Republican Party could encompass Jewish values as well. But I also believe that it no longer does; the influence of Mr. Adelson, the Koch brothers and the Tea Party, among others, have pushed the Republican Party and its presidential nominee to a place where it is acceptable to dismiss half of this country as people not willing to take responsibility for their lives.
Has our community lost its soul and its core in order to keep the money flowing? Are we afraid to cross Mr. Adelson, who is vocal about silencing his detractors? One rabbi told me that Mr. Adelson’s money ensures the continuity of the Jewish community. Perhaps. Others say that it is complicated and we need to compartmentalize. Several have expressed their private support for President Obama despite their public eagerness to defend Mr. Adelson and accept his extraordinary influence on this year’s presidential election.
But what are we going to be in future generations if money buys our silence, supports candidates who would govern in a manner inconsistent with Jewish values, does long-term harm to Israel and is incompatible with tikkun olam? Is the price we are choosing to pay too high? What will it take for Jewish leaders to reject a philanthropist’s donations or influence because of how he made his money and how else he spends it? Will the Jewish community we are preserving for our children and grandchildren be the one we want for them? I hope in the days remaining before the election our Jewish communal and religious leaders will find the courage and the willingness to rebalance their public statements and lead with Jewish values and beliefs.
Joanne Feinberg Goldstein was a lawyer in the private sector for several decades and now serves as the Massachusetts Secretary of Labor and Workforce Development. The views expressed are her own and do not reflect those of the Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development or the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.