Embracing Humanity, On and Off the Field

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In the aftermath of his team’s pitiful performance against the Seattle Seahawks — a loss aided and, some would say, enabled by his own disastrous fumble inches from the end zone — Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz posted on his Instagram account a picture of himself congratulating the one man other than Wentz who made Seattle’s win possible: Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson.

I’m sure quite a few people back home in Wentzlvania were aghast at such a gesture, but I for one appreciated it as a mark of good sportsmanship.

Contrast the postgame butt slap — part of a long tradition of coaches greeting each other on the field at the end of the game — with New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski’s gratuitous late hit Sunday on Buffalo Bills cornerback Tre’Davious White. Gronkowski has been suspended by the National Football League for one game for the display of unsportsmanlike conduct, a personal foul so egregious that it was denounced by none other than Patriots head coach Bill Belichick.

This is as it should be. Despite the general behavior of Philadelphia fans and of the legions of soccer moms and dads across the country, we, as a nation, tend to value good sportsmanship.

We encourage our children to line up and shake the hands of opposing players after a game, we penalize academic cheating and we reward in the office place those coworkers who maintain positive demeanors no matter the difficulties.

Unfortunately, when it comes to politics, all bets are off.

Yes, it was President Trump who as a candidate — and then as the commander-in-chief — perfected the art of campaigning like a schoolyard bully by attaching epithets and insults to every mention of an opponent. There was “low-energy Jeb,” “little Marco” and “crooked Hillary.” Those gave way to the president’s preferred handle when tweeting about North Korean leader Kim Jong Un: “Rocket Man.”

But when a host of people found out in the last couple of weeks that despite having attended before, they had not been invited to the annual White House Chanukah party, some of them — Interfaith Alliance executive director Rabbi Jack Moline, for example — told associates and at least one reporter that had they been invited, they would have declined out of principle.

That’s a bit like saying two days before the prom with no date in sight that you wouldn’t go even if you were asked. In high school, it comes across as petty and mean-spirited. All the more so when you’re talking about the White House.

For the record, I will not be attending this year’s bash, scheduled for Dec. 7. Much to my chagrin, I was not invited, and so will be missing the fall-off-the-bone baby lamb chops that I devoured from a corner of the State Dining Room back in 2015, when my wife and I attended one of two Chanukah parties hosted by President Obama that year. Despite being no fan of the current president’s rhetoric or much of his actions, had we been invited, we would have gone to this year’s party as well.

Back when the White House held the first Chanukah party, during the administration of President George W. Bush, the celebration was noteworthy for being a distinctly Jewish moment in an executive mansion whose many halls were decked with tributes to a distinctly non-Jewish holiday season. In keeping with the message of Chanukah, it came to be seen by many in the Jewish community as symbolic of the victory of light over darkness, a sign of the permanence of Judaism in whichever corner Jews find themselves.

Through the years, that message continued, although as the party got larger, the apparent guest list seemed to reflect certain presidential political leanings more than the breadth of the American Jewish community. Judging by the reactions of some of those not invited, this year’s party may prove to be the most political of them all.

That’s a shame, and both the president and the “sore losers” among us are to blame. In an exceedingly divisive society, we need safe spaces in which to practice civility and good will now more than ever.

Two weeks ago in advance of Thanksgiving, several news outlets posted articles about how to handle political disagreements at the dinner table; at least one even advised to not invite the crazy uncle with the Make America Great Again hat.

As we all look to the first night of Chanukah next week, I hope we find a way to infuse even our disagreements with light so that we can put them in their proper context.

That crazy uncle is no more an enemy than Russell Wilson. In between elections, we all have to figure out a way to share the playing field. 

Joshua Runyan is the editor-in-chief of the Jewish Exponent. He can be reached at [email protected]jewishexponent.com.

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