web analytics
September 30, 2014 / 6 Tishri, 5775
At a Glance
InDepth
Sponsored Post
Meir Panim with Soldiers 5774 Roundup: Year of Relief and Service for Israel’s Needy

Meir Panim implements programs that serve Israel’s neediest populations with respect and dignity. Meir Panim also coordinated care packages for families in the South during the Gaza War.



Home » InDepth » Op-Eds »

Jews Can Learn Something Important From Barack Obama

One of the mysteries of Jewish history is why Jews find so little pride in their identities and tradition. Put a sword to the necks of Jews and threaten them with death unless they convert and they will willingly die for their faith. But put them in everyday, Western society and they will Anglicize their Jewish sounding names, have plastic surgery to alter ethnic features, and often distance themselves from Israel when its policies become too controversial.
 
Nearly all American Jews, even the most secular, are given two names at birth: a Jewish ceremonial one and an anglicized one. The former is heard at the person’s bris and bar or bat mitzvah. The latter is used at all other times.
 
Most Jews are hard pressed to even remember their Jewish name. They certainly would never think of using it on a regular basis. It’s too ethnic. Too parochial. Too strange. If you want go get ahead in American society, you have to fit in. You have to sound like everyone else. Will you really get equal treatment in the job market if your resume says “Yankel” or “Yentl”?
 
But Barack Obama has forever rendered obsolete the justifications given by American Jews, not to mention other minorities, for burying their ethnicity.
 
Last March Newsweek magazine ran a cover story explaining how Obama changed his name from Barry to Barack. He grew up in Indonesia and Hawaii, the child of an African man and a white American woman, struggling to find his racial identity. During his undergraduate years at Occidental College, he found himself looking for a sense of belonging. He decided to embrace his African heritage by rejecting the anglicized version of his name that surely would have allowed him to fit more easily into American culture.
 
So how could a man with such a strange name advance to become one of two who will be the next president of the United States? Well, when you work hard and have undeniable talent, you will undoubtedly advance, even if your name sounds “weird.”
 
This is a lesson American Jews must take to heart.
 
While I was rabbi at Oxford, one of its most prestigious colleges, Balliol, hired an American Jewish Nobel Prize winner and former Rhodes Scholar, Baruch Blumberg, to be its master. I was intrigued by the fact that he went by the name Baruch, even though many of his official biographies named him as Barry. When I spoke to his wife about it, she explained that they were not particularly religious but that he saw no need to deny his Jewish name. But was he not concerned that he might be held back if he used a Jewish name, I asked? Not in the slightest, she told me. He excelled at what he did. He would be judged by his talent and would brook no compromises about his name.
 
Hollywood superagent Ari Emanuel, with whom I’ve worked in the past, is another example, as is his brother Rahm, one of the Democratic leaders in Congress. Both have held on to their Jewish names and have risen to the top of their fields.
 
So why is it that so many of us, Orthodox Jews included, seem so self-conscious about using our Jewish names?
 
Human beings are governed by a herd instinct. We all want to feel like insiders. We don’t want to be different. And given the world’s long history of anti-Semitism, we’re also afraid of calling the wrong kind of attention to ourselves. So we do things to make sure we don’t stick out as much, like taking off our yarmulkes when we get to college and later at work, to refusing to ask for time off for Jewish holidays for fear that we’ll anger the boss.
 
Jon Stewart, host of “The Daily Show,” is an icon of American culture and easily one of the most talented people ever to appear on television. He is also unashamedly Jewish, throwing in Jewish references and mentioning Jewish holidays at every turn. Yet he was born Jonathan Leibowitz and changed his name. Would he have been less successful had he stayed with the Jewish one?
 
Just look at Oprah, whose name is arguably the most recognizable on the planet. It is a name that does not fit in anywhere, but it did not stop her from becoming the world’s most influential woman.
 
Arnold Schwarzenegger is one of America’s great success stories. An immigrant at the age of 21 from Austria, he started first as a bodybuilder, then became one of Hollywood’s biggest stars, married a Kennedy, and is now the governor of America’s most populous state. And he did it all with one of the weirdest sounding last names around. And still Jews run to change their names from Heimowitz to Haines.
 
But it’s not last names I’m principally discussing here. Living with a Jewish first name connects you with an unbroken tradition. Most Hebrew names are from the Bible. They evoke the spirit of a biblical figure who embodied a particular virtue. My name is Shmuel, Hebrew for the prophet Samuel. It’s a name I am proud to bear.
 
I often think of my namesake, of how his mother, barren for so many years, prayed for his birth and then consecrated him to God’s service once he was born. That story of sacrifice inspires me to work to put God before my own interests.
 
True to his mother’s promise, Shmuel led the Jewish people with humility and integrity for decades, and then without concern for his own position anointed Shaul (Saul) as Israel’s first king. Later, when God regretted having made Shaul king, Shmuel begged God to recant. His crowning achievement, quite literally, came when he raised David to become sovereign of the Jewish people and established a dynasty that runs from antiquity to the future Messiah.
 
In a culture that increasingly celebrates difference, it’s time for more Jews to bury their fears and proudly assert their Jewish identities.
 

Rabbi Shmuley Boteach is the author of many books, including “Judaism For Everyone.” Visit his website at www.shmuley.com.

 

About the Author: Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, “America’s Rabbi” whom the Washington Post calls “the most famous Rabbi in America,” is the international best-selling author of 29 books, including The Fed-up Man of Faith: Challenging God in the Face of Tragedy and Suffering. Follow him on Twitter @RabbiShmuley.


If you don't see your comment after publishing it, refresh the page.

Our comments section is intended for meaningful responses and debates in a civilized manner. We ask that you respect the fact that we are a religious Jewish website and avoid inappropriate language at all cost.

If you promote any foreign religions, gods or messiahs, lies about Israel, anti-Semitism, or advocate violence (except against terrorists), your permission to comment may be revoked.

No Responses to “Jews Can Learn Something Important From Barack Obama”

Comments are closed.

SocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Current Top Story
In Lebanon, smoke rises from a Sunni Muslim dominated neighborhood in Tripoli on August 21, 2014.
Iran, US Equip & Finance Lebanese Army to Fight ISIS
Latest Indepth Stories
terrorists

Is the global community clear in its response to these extremist groups?

obama

Like our fabled character, Don Quixote, President Obama has constantly spawned his own reality.

Ayatollah Hossein-Kazamani Boroujerdi, in better times (left) and in his prison cell (right).

Boroujerdi was informed that “the pressures and tortures will increase until he has been destroyed.”

Senior Hamas and Fatah leaders in Gaza City on April 22. Hamas and Fatah signed a deal to establish a unity government, but since then little progress has been made.

Fatah: Hamas stole relief aid for Gaza and distributed it amongst its followers in mosques.

Can teenagers seriously be expected to behave properly when they are surrounded by so much suggestive material? Is it fair to expose them (and ourselves) to so much temptation and then tell them, “Just say no”?

Washington remains ignorant of the need to dismantle alliances with various Muslim countries.

Defeating IS requires bombing its strongholds and recognizing the violent nature of Islam.

Abbas again used the UN to attack Israel, distort history, and undermine prospects for peace.

Israel and the Palestinian Authority cannot even agree to move their clocks back on the same day.

Shemita is about relating to each other by temporarily eliminating gaps of wealth power & status

David transcended adversity to become a leader; Who are we to make excuses for a lack of greatness?

sympathy: Feeling sorrow or pity for another’s tribulations; Empathy:sharing an emotional experience

Last week the president announced a four-point plan. Unfortunately, there’s little buy-in from our European and Middle Eastern allies. Here’s my own four-point plan that may be more palatable to our allies.

Rosh Hashanah has an obvious connection to God’s Kingship. We constantly refer to Him during the Asseres Yemei Teshuvah as Melech/King. The nusach of the tefillah, referring to Rosh Hashanah as “a remembrance of the first day” (of Creation), implies a certain dimension of divine kingship operating at the time of Creation and replicated every […]

Yes, God judges, but His judgment is that of a loving father who longs for his child’s quick return.

Anti-Semitism has returned to the mainstream of European society and Israel has become its focus.

More Articles from Rabbi Shmuley Boteach
Russian President Vladimir Putin (R) and Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu meet in the Kremlin, Nov. 20, 2013.

On the one hand, Putin has been a friend to Chabad and to Israel. On the other hand, Putin is a brutal dictator.

The gradual trickle of self-hatred into the Jewish soul is evidencing itself in the American Jewish public.

Rabbi Schochet wrote the Johannesburg Beis Din: It is totally prohibited and unacceptable to hear someone like Boteach.

If you’re feeling down, stop reading right now. You’re only going to be more depressed.

The world and the United State continue to give Rouhani a pass.

American Jews – especially those working on campus – don’t accept that we have a battle on our hands.

But the most painful part of an otherwise illuminating and extraordinary Forum was Iranian President Rouhani’s speech.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/opinions/jews-can-learn-something-important-from-barack-obama/2008/07/02/

Scan this QR code to visit this page online: