“You will come around,” said a particularly dickish family friend as he dismissed my point about the importance of a social program out of hand. “You’ll grow out of this. It is against your interests.”
He wasn’t the only person who said some version of this to me as a kid, but it was the most obnoxious, and direct, version of it. Growing up in a well-off, liberal Jewish community the more passive refrain was often, “we vote against our interests.”
It was understood that “our interests” were financial. And it was seen as a universal truth, that we voted for the Democrats and it didn’t help us.
My grandfather came to this country with nothing after the Holocaust; he built a small store and gave my mom the foundations to build her life, one of incredible opportunity for me and my children. Within three generations, we went from nothing to that well-off Jewish community that votes against its interests — at least most of the time.
But a purely economic and financial world view is treif. The inevitable shift to the right my dickish family friend suggested is narishkeit.
As a people rooted in community and responsibilities to others, our laws regulate communal life to ensure dignity among our ranks (Leviticus 19:9-18), access for those with different abilities (Leviticus 19:14), and protection for the most vulnerable (Exodus 22:22). These rules weren’t intended to be morality lessons for our ancestors, but rather a foundation for civil society.
Those who wrote these books understood that regulation of capital, infrastructure, and transactions leads to a more equal society while not putting an end to the accumulation of wealth. “There is no community where everyone is rich; neither is there a community where everyone is poor,” (Jerusalem Talmud, Gitten 3:7). It seems that some within our community forgot that in the late 1980s.
It took me years to come to this understanding of our traditions and I wish I had some of it at my finger tips when talking with this dickish family friend 20 years ago. I really wish I said this:
When we allow our teachings and traditions to inform our politics, how is that voting against our interests? Suggesting that we vote based only on the value of our holdings as opposed to our traditionally held values exposes what is wrong within our community. It is a failure of our religious education and leadership, and our elders. Building a personal financial safety net and leaving something for your family remains a critical responsibility for all community members. That can coexist within a system that taxes those with the most to provide food for the hungry and clothing for the naked and homes for the homeless. In fact, every one of us see financial benefits from strong social programs. But more importantly, these programs are the foundation of our society. Without taking care of each other, we have nothing.
In short, OK Boomer.
But I was a kid and I just smiled thinking that he was a dick.
As we venture into the depths of what will be a horrifying and interminable election season, let us push back against dickish family friends everywhere and make them sit alone with their non-kosher politics.