If anyone had any doubt that this was going to be a brutal election season in our community, you only had to be at Reform Congregation Keneseth Israel in Elkins Park on Monday night to see that the gloves are already off.
What should have been an opportunity to hear President Barack Obama's top Jewish surrogate make the case for his re-election to the Jewish community appeared instead to be an election rally and devolved at certain times into rude heckling of the featured speaker.
The good news is that 1,200 people showed up on a hot July night to hear U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.), the head of the Democratic National Committee. The turnout by both the president's supporters and detractors underscored the importance of this election and showed our community is paying attention.
But some of what transpired surrounding the event needs to be examined so that the remaining course of this hotly contested campaign proves to be — at least in our community — constructive rather than destructive.
From the start, the Republican Jewish Coalition took issue with the invitation to host Wasserman Schultz, claiming the synagogue should include a Republican counterpart at the event. Rabbi Lance Sussman's response at the time, reported in the Jewish Exponent last week, made sense — that the community would be better served by two separate events rather than a shouting match.
But the July l6 event appeared to go too far. It was not billed as an election rally but it was, in fact, organized by the Obama campaign rather than the synagogue itself. Obama posters and buttons were highly visible. Nonprofits cannot risk IRS fines or their tax-exempt status by endorsing or promoting candidates. The spirit of the law and the perception of such events can be as important as the law itself.
At the same time, no guest at a synagogue or Jewish institution should be subjected to the kind of heckling and rude behavior that greeted Wasserman Schultz and her Democratic colleagues.
There is much at stake in this next election. The economic and social direction of this country, policies toward Israel, Iran and the Middle East are all critical issues facing our community, issues all of us will have to weigh heavily as we cast our votes.
As a community, we should be actively engaged in the political realm. But that should happen only through civil debate and discourse, through educational forums that will shed light rather than heat.
The Exponent does not and will not endorse candidates. But we will be watching, as should we all, to ensure the health — and self-respect — of our community as we look to November.