Shmuely Boteach: What this Campaign Has Taught Me
Tomorrow night I’ll know if I’m a US Congressman. We have run a vigorous campaign and expect to win, God willing.
But win or lose, I wanted to capture my feelings in the last moments of the campaign. And I want to do it now because I don’t know how I’ll feel tomorrow when the race is over. In these last hours of campaigning – and I’m writing this between stops – I’m feeling particularly vulnerable, like I have something to say.
First, campaigning has led me to a deep affection for the people of my district. I’m not just saying that. Before, I sort of knew them, but now I feel connected to them. Why? Because they’re amazing. With the rarest of exception, they all welcomed me so warmly, laughed with me when I told them to ‘Vote for the man with the beard,’ even if they didn’t like Republicans. They took a minute to stop and tell me what was on their mind. If they were in a big rush, they still took our literature and wished me well. Almost no one treated me like I was a nuisance getting in their way.
The people who were the nicest? Some standouts were the Arab-Americans of Paterson. Consistently warm, friendly, hospitable. There was Raed who owns the Palestine Barber Shop and told me he personally registered 200 people for my opponent, but insisted on tidying up my hair so I looked like a more professional candidate. There was Ahmed who owns a restaurant, told me he was voting for Pascrell because he criticizes Israel, but pulled me and my kids in from the cold for a half hour debate on the Middle East. Many Arabs spoke to me in Hebrew, reminding me they had grown up and lived in Israel.
The Community Baptist Church in Englewood is one of the largest black churches in our area. They hugged me, prayed with me, welcomed me, and treated me like family.
The Dominicans at their banquet. They got up to take pictures with me, escorted me from table to table, ran around trying to find me kosher food. And there is no question that the most fun I had in the campaign was dancing for four hours straight on the back of a truck at the Dominican Day Parade. (You can see the video here.)
The Korean Americans, with their exceptionally polite manner. Hosting me at their debate and at their harvest festival, they wanted me to always feel at home.
More than anyone else, the good people of the Bergen County Republican Organization, BCRO, who never flinched for a moment when an orthodox Rabbi became their congressional candidate. To the contrary, they were immensely proud and treated me like a son at all times. The warmth shown to me by the Republican leaders of this district has been monumental, and that is especially true of Bob Yudin, the BCRO chairman.
On the campaign trail, I’ve loved making people laugh. Normally, when a candidate comes over to you to get your vote it’s an annoyance. So I walked over to the women and asked them, “How many times in your life has a clean-shaven man let you down?” All of them said, “Many.” Well, then you have to vote for the man with the beard. Case closed.
After 11 years as Rabbi at Oxford, I feared I would never encounter the same level of diversity like I found in a University that has students from all over the world. But our district is one of the most diverse in America. Meeting with and being greeted by people from every nationality made me experience a deeper, shared humanity.
In campaigning I’ve also been able to live the great Biblical teaching that every human being is created in the image of G-d. Democracy is all about the infinite worth of each individual, and the powerful see their fate rise and fall by the will of the people.
I’ve loved having my kids on the campaign trail. Our little Cheftziba, all of four years old, walks up to people and hands them our brochures. No doubt she’s been responsible for more than a few votes. Shterny, my daughter in University, is the whiz behind so many of my campaign videos, including the super-popular ‘Vote for the Man with the Beard’ and many in the ‘Where’s Bill’ series that have received so much national media attention. My wife Debbie doesn’t like when people are mean to me on the campaign trail. As I said before, it hasn’t happened a lot but when it did, she bristled. She’s used to people coming over to thank me for my books. Meeting people who dislike me for my political party has taken some getting used to.
As far as democracy is concerned, here is where I’ve become less inspired and a bit more cynical. I’ve discovered that our democracy needs a severe overhaul with Congressional districts that are not drawn up by professional politicians who gerrymander them in proverbial smoke-filled rooms. And I’m sick of hearing about Ohio. I think every American should be able to decide who their President is. But I’ll save that for another day.
Vote for Shmuley! Vote for the man with the beard!
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, whom The Washington Post calls “the most famous Rabbi in America,” is the Republican Candidate for Congress in New Jersey’s Ninth Congressional District. The international best-selling author of 29 books, he will shortly publish “The Fed-up Man of Faith: Challenging G-d in the Face of Tragedy and Suffering.” His website is www.shmuleyforcongress.com . Follow him on Twitter @RabbiShmuley.