June 4, 2008
OBAMA CONVERTS TO JUDAISM
Sen. Barack Obama, the presumed Democratic nominee for President, surprised many in the audience during his address to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee(AIPAC) Policy Conference by announcing his immediate conversion to Judaism. At the end of his speech, in which he discussed the Iraq war, Iran, a future Palestinian state, and U.S.-Israeli relations, Obama told the listeners he was now a Jew. “Fulfilling a lifelong spiritual quest, which has brought me from the faith of my father and stepfather, to the Christianity of my grandparents and my wife, I have finally a home in the Hebrew faith,” Obama told the gathering of largely Jewish activists. “I look forward to sharing my faith with my Jewish brothers and sisters, and someday visiting the homeland of my people, Israel,” said Obama, to applause.
AIPAC member Alan Weisman, a Washington lawyer, was pleased. “I think it’s great. He will be the fist Jewish President, unless you count Abraham Lincoln,” he said. Others were more skeptical. Hannah Kotlowitz said, “I’m sorry, but no. The blood of Moses doesn’t flow through his veins.”
Obama said he will begin studying Hebrew this summer, in anticipation of a bar mitzvah after he becomes President. “I would like to introduce my new spiritual advisor, Rabbi Harold Meyerson, who I am assured has never said anything controversial in his whole life,” Obama told the gathering.
In a brief interview, Obama said he has always felt close the Jewish people. “My grandfather helped liberate Buchenwald, plus I’ve seen all of Woody Allen’s movies, as well as ‘Fiddler on the Roof’, ‘Yentl’, ‘An American Tale’, and ‘A Stranger Among Us’,” he said.
Experts said the move will help Obama politically. Rep. Steve Rothman, the only member of the New Jersey Congressional delegation to endorse Obama, said “I’m thrilled. This will really help voters in my district get a sense of who Obama really is - one of them.”
Pat Buchanan called the conversion “shrewd.” “It’s brilliant - although some will see it at expediency, it’s a clever tactical move that can only help him,” said Buchanan. Buchanan said that in fact, at one time he and William Safire had thought of approaching President Richard Nixon about converting to Judaism to help win the 1972 election, but “just as we were walking into the Oval Office to discuss it, he was telling Billy Graham about those ‘goddamm jews trying to bring me down,’ so we dropped the idea.” Tim Russert of NBC said the move makes sense. “This will help Obama with a key Democratic constituency he has problems with, Jewish voters. Plus, you know Sammy Davis Jr. was Jewish.”