Editor's Note: A version of this column appeared originally in THE DAILY BEAST.
No, the president’s “Rosh Hashanah Message” doesn’t count as one of the most significant state papers to emanate each year from the Oval Office but someone in the White House should have nonetheless reviewed and edited the odd, embarrassing holiday statement just released over Barack Obama’s signature.
Anyone who actually bothers to digest this ritualized declaration (or to watch its video version –here) and tries to compare it to Jewish New Year greetings from prior presidents will be struck by two distinctive features of this chief executive’s remarks. These unique Obamanisms (not quite obamanations) reveal far more about the president himself than they do about the holiday at hand.
First, he clumsily inserts nakedly political posturing that seems altogether out-of-place in the context of the High Holy Days.
And, second, Mr. Obama seems to suggest that he himself dutifully celebrates Rosh Hashanah—treating the holiday like a universal American tradition (as much a part of the secular national calendar as Thanksgiving?) rather than an unequivocally religious occasion annually embraced by less than 2% of our citizens who identify as Jews.
The politics intrudes with President Obama’s appropriate acknowledgment of the painful aspects of this moment in history. “But this last year was also one of hardship for people around the world,” he says. “Too many of our friends and neighbors continue to struggle in the wake of a terrible economic recession.”
Fair enough, Mr. President, but then comes the public relations pitch that echoes his recent “warrior for the middle class” rhetoric, melded with a transparent bid to regain his fading support in the Jewish community: “That is why my Administration is doing everything we can to promote prosperity here at home and security and peace throughout the world – and that includes reaffirming our commitment to the State of Israel.”
Will this assertion in a simple holiday greeting reassure Jewish voters as they enter the season of reassessment?
Or will they respond warmly to the President’s peculiar suggestion that the annual “Days of Awe” bring “repentance and reflection” for all Americans?