News2Use: Elections, Mashups, and the Economy

by Adrian A. Durlester

What Jewish Problem? Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz reports that, according to exit polls, Barack Obama received 77% of the “Jewish Vote.” Jeremy Ben-Ami of the J-Street lobby (a dovish pro-Israel pro-Peace organization supporting more direct and insistent U.S. involvement in bringing about peace and a two-state solution) told Ha’aretz that “American Jews resoundingly rejected the two-year, multi-million dollar campaign of baseless smears and fears waged against [Obama] by the right wing of our community…We can only hope that these results put to rest for good the myth that fear and smear campaigns – particularly around Israel – can be an effective political weapon in the Jewish community.”

Your students are going to want to talk about the election whether you want to or not. Might as well look for some Jewish angles. Lot’s more to use on Ha’aretz’s U.S Elections web page,

Now It’s Israel’s Turn For a Big Election. In case you missed it during the whirlwind of the Jewish holidays and the U.S. Presidential election, Israel’s Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert, is facing an ever-growing corruption scandal and tendered his resignation back in late September. Israeli President Shimon Peres asked the Kadima party’s Tzipi Livni, the Israeli foreign minister, to form a new government. After a month or so of trying to put together a coalition, Livni told Peres that the political compromises she would have to make, particularly to right-wing parties, were more than she could accept, even to become Prime Minister. So Israel is headed for elections some time in February, 2009. Livni’s likely challenger is none other than Benjamin Netanyahu. On a simplistic level, it’s right-wing hawks versus centrist and leftist doves. This article from Ha’aretz (, among others, uses Israeli reaction to Obama’s victory as a lens through which to view Israel’s upcoming political choice.

Strange Concurrence. In the U.S., it was election day. In Israel, it was the anniversary of the assassination of Yitzchak Rabin. Columnist Bradley Burston comments on this unique concurrence. It’s a thought-provoking piece. Probably not suitable for younger students, and it could even be a difficult subject to broach with teens. Nevertheless, the fears are real, and such things are often better discussed out in the open rather than in hushed tones behind closed doors. Semper vigilans is no strange thought for anyone who challenges the status quo.

The Rabbi Said To Vote For… An election-related story in the Forward a month ago covers a topic still worth discussion with students. It’s about rabbis and other clergy trying to navigate the difficult waters of what they can say to their congregations about specific candidates. While the many issues surrounding religion-state separation and freedom of speech are complicated enough, the real challenge comes from the IRS, which has stepped up its scrutiny religious organizations, who cannot endorse candidates and still be considered tax-exempt. Evangelical Christian leaders are organizing open defiance of the law, in hopes of sparking a court case that will eventually go to the Supreme Court. Some Jewish clergy were trying to be as proactive as they could outside of their pulpits, with organizations like “Rabbis for Obama.” Others wondered where the line falls. If a rabbi endorses a candidate in his/her blog, can the synagogue website maintain its link to that blog? What about the rabbinic precept for Jews that “dinah d’malkhuta dinah,” the law of the land is the law? Can rabbis and synagogues openly defy the law? Find the complete article at:

Mom and Dad Said No! Are students starting to feel the impact as parents start to cut back on spending, and actually start saying “no” to their teens? In Pirke Avot, Rabbi Ben Zoma asks and answers first who is wise, then strong, and then rich. His answer on the latter? Those who are satisfied with their lot. What Jewish values and practices could be employed to help parents and their children navigate the scary financial waters of today? The NY Times covers the issue here (with related videos also available online). While the article discusses and is aimed at teens, I think the subject can be explored by children of all ages. Even our youngest may wonder why how this financial crisis might affect them.

Best Jewish Music Video Mashup Ever. You have got to see this one!

Are You A Cool Jew? A new book helps answer the question (or muddies the waters, depending on your point of view) of what it means to be cool and Jewish.

Election Day Prayer? No, it wasn’t a fake, or a fark. Rabbi David Seidenburg of Northampton, MA actually wrote a prayer to say before voting. Visit his site a, and download the prayer (in English or Hebrew). It would make a great class discussion at almost any age.

News2Use is written by Adrian A. Durlester. To comment or respond, send an email to Adrian at or to Torah Aura at