The Jewish Billy Graham, the Israeli Martin Luther King
American Jewry’s foremost priority is the creation of an institute that will bring together the most talented, charismatic and articulate Jewish men and women to be spokespeople for our nation so that Jewish light can illuminate the dark spaces of human ignorance.
Rev. Martin Luther King Photo: DeMarsico, Dick
The Jewish people can be characterized as a noble and distinguished nation who
have excelled in nearly every area but sports and messaging. We can cite but a
handful of Jews who have won an Olympic medal, caught a touchdown pass in the
Super Bowl, or hit a home run in the World Series. And we can cite even fewer
who have succeeded in countering the prevailing notion of the Jews as
Christ-killing political subversives who have cynically sucked the economic life
out of the nations that have been gracious enough to host them.
failure at sports is forgivable. If the Jews do not hoist the Vince Lombardy
trophy their peoplehood might yet survive. The failure at PR, however, is fatal.
The catalogue of accusations that have been hurled against the Jews without a
proper riposte boggles the imagination and has led to mounds of dead
Two thousand years ago we were accused of murdering the Creator’s
son. A thousand years later we were drinking the blood of all Christian sons. A
few hundred years later and we were now poisoning the wells of Europe. And in
modern times we are bombing innocent Palestinian children, cutting down their
olive gardens, and evicting them from their homes.
Congressional race was against an opponent who had signed a letter accusing
Israel of collective punishment against the Palestinians in Gaza. Many
pro-Israel groups said they would support him nonetheless because words did not
matter so much as actions and Bill Pascrell had repeatedly voted to support
Israel aid. The same is now being said of Chuck Hagel, whose accusations against
the Jews run the gamut from intimidation to “keeping Palestinians caged up like
But he is kosher because he voted for American military aid to
Israel. The rest is but commentary.
But of what use are American
helicopter gunships that were given to Israel as a result of these votes if they
cannot even be deployed because of the deligitimization that resulted from
harmful words hurled by lawmakers? You can have the strongest army on earth, but
if it can’t be used because a CNN camera is trained on it amid false accusations
of atrocities over legitimate defense then that military force may as well not
What I’m really saying is that PR is nearly the whole ball game
and we Jews have lost the battle, not just in modern times with Israel but
throughout a long and tragic history. A nation charged with being a light unto
the nations has singularly failed to communicate the humanity of its character,
the generosity of its lifestyle, and the holiness of its ways.
mid-century America evangelical Christianity was seen as extreme,
fundamentalist, unsophisticated and backward. Evangelicals believed in a
faith-filled revival, but the results were dismal.
Then, a great
charismatic spokesman arose in the son of a dairy farmer named Billy Graham. The
focus on communication, messaging and massmarket public relations turned the
tide. Today, an astonishing one out of every five Americans calls themselves a
Charismatic spokesmen likewise turned the tide of
the civil rights movement. In 1955 black men and women were required to move to
the back of the bus in many cities of the South, including Birmingham, Alabama.
A black child kicking a soccer ball in the oppressive summer heat of Selma could
not drink water from a white fountain.
Rising to the occasion to protest
this humiliating injustice, Martin Luther King, Jr., all of 25 years old, found
the words to combat the monstrous prejudice and convince the masses to march.
His stirring words haunt us still today: “There comes a time when people get
tired of being trampled over by the iron feet of oppression.
a time, my friends, when people get tired of being plunged across the abyss of
humiliation, where they experience the bleakness of nagging despair.”
one searches in vain for the Jewish Billy Graham or the Jewish Martin Luther
King. Where are the great spokesmen of our people to teach the world of Jewish
charity, Jewish education and Jewish values? Why are we not training a
generation of media and press ambassadors to expose and reverse the fraudulent
accusations against Israel that are daily occurrences at the UN, the BBC and the
Arab press? A few years ago I was to meet the Jewish head of a national
television network. The producer who had arranged the meeting with a view toward
the executive buying into my idea for a TV show said to me, “The man you are
meeting is very influential and very secular. He’s going to be wary of you as a
rabbi so whatever you do, don’t mention anything religious.”
I had my
marching orders and was fully prepared to focus the conversation exclusively on
my TV show idea. But as soon as I walked in the executive said to me, “Do you
watch Joel Osteen? I watch him every Sunday morning. I think he’s terrific. Do
you think we can make a commercial venture out of a religious show like that?”
Here was one of America’s most influential members of the media, a Jew, telling
me that every Sunday morning he watched a charismatic evangelical preacher who
talked mostly about life lessons derived from the Hebrew Bible. Yet America had
not produced a single rabbi successful in doing the same.
It is for this
reason that I firmly believe that American Jewry’s foremost priority is the
creation of an institute, modeled on, say, Oxford’s Rhodes scholarship, that
will bring together the most talented, charismatic and articulate Jewish men and
women from around the world and train them to be spokespeople for our nation so
that Jewish light can illuminate the dark spaces of human ignorance.
the next few months I will be endeavoring, with God’s blessing, to bring about
an institution with this focus.
It may still be a while before a Jew wins
the 100 meter dash in an Olympic stadium. But we can still prevail in the longer
race to have Jewish wisdom and values positively affect the much more vital
arena of life.
Shmuley Boteach, “America’s Rabbi” whom the Washington
Post calls “the most famous Rabbi in America,” has just published his newest
best-seller, The Fed-up Man of Faith: Challenging God in the Face of Tragedy and
Suffering. Follow him on Twitter @RabbiShmuley.