Mazel Tov, Mr. President-Elect! Now Do We Have Some Advice for You ...

Published November 06, 2008, issue of November 14, 2008.
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Get Your Mideast Priorities Straight

By Yossi Alpher

Your Middle East agenda is huge. You are going to be preoccupied in the years ahead with Iran and Iraq, Pakistan and Afghanistan, Al Qaeda and the Taliban. These matters will loom much larger for you than will Israel and its immediate and problematic environs.

Nevertheless, you will quickly be confronted with the need to deal with Israeli-Arab issues, too. In responding, first keep in mind that Israel now looks at its security environment through an Iranian prism, not an Arab prism. Second, remember that Syria, and not the Palestinian Authority, is the linchpin in any effort to turn the tide in Israel’s vicinity against Iran and militant Islam.

Know, too, that events in the region will surprise you and your advisers. They always do — and on that Biden was right: You will be challenged here at an early stage.

Yossi Alpher, a columnist for the Forward, is co-editor of the bitterlemons family of online publications and a former director of the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies at Tel Aviv University.


Put Families First
By Shmuley Boteach

You were very honest in your memoir about the pain caused by your father’s abandonment of your family. Yes, America has grave financial and foreign policy challenges. But historians rightly point out that great civilizations crumble from within when the fabric of society, as represented by the nuclear family, is torn asunder. So renewing America should also mean making the family the epicenter of your administration.

Marital counseling should be tax deductible so that troubled couples can get the help they need. Leave the Oval Office early every evening to dine with your children and put them to bed; American parents will follow your example. Establish a national lottery in which parents who have four family dinners per week can be chosen to dine with the president at the White House.

Finally, push for school choice. You attended some great private schools and received the best education, an opportunity that should be the right of every American child.

Rabbi Shmuley Boteach hosts a daily national radio show on Sirius and XM radio and is the author of the forthcoming “The Kosher Sutra: Eight Sacred Secrets for Reigniting Desire and Restoring Passion for Life” (HarperCollins).


Complexify
By Alan Dershowitz

In your victory speech you promised truth. Keep that promise. The campaigns consisted largely of oversimplified clichés. Complex truths don’t play well when the media pays more attention to plumbers, hockey moms and movie stars than to experts. Now you have a mandate and four years in which to address complex issues. Eschew simplicity. Embrace complexity. Do not underestimate our intelligence. Share painful truths with us.

The major issues — the economy, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, terrorism, the Middle East conflict, health care — defy simple solutions and require that balances be struck and that difficult truths be told.

Complexity is rarely ideological. Extremists thrive on simple-minded slogans and false promises. We are a centrist nation, with vocal extremists on both sides. Truth and complexity move us toward the center.

You are a brilliant, nuanced and complex person, with an ability to inspire. Be Barack Obama.

Alan Dershowitz is the Felix Frankfurter Professor at Harvard Law School and the author, most recently, of “The Case Against Israel’s Enemies: Exposing Jimmy Carter and Others Who Stand in the Way of Peace” (Wiley).


End Torture, ASAP
By Elizabeth Holtzman

One area in which you urgently and immediately need to make a clean break with the failed policies of the Bush administration is the issue of torture. Few things have harmed America’s image more in the eyes of the world than the revelations of prisoner mistreatment at Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo and elsewhere.

Our treatment of prisoners has become a recruitment tool for Al Qaeda. Torture violates bedrock constitutional values of human dignity implicit in our Bill of Rights. And abandoning torture does not leave us defenseless; as a former district attorney, I have seen smart police work solve impossible cases innumerable times.

On your first day of office, I urge you to issue an executive order repealing any authorizations for torture or prisoner mistreatment as the first step in making that clean break.

Elizabeth Holtzman served as a member of Congress from 1973 to 1981 and as Brooklyn’s district attorney from 1982 to 1990.


Think About the Kids
By Marjorie Ingall

Dude! Dude! You won! I feel as if the entire nation just got a puppy. It’s been a very long time since I’ve been so suffused with optimism about the future, pride in my country and the sense of being in sync with my fellow Americans.

So nu, some advice? Let thoughts of your two beautiful daughters — and mine — inform your every statement and act as president. Fulfill your promise to invest in early childhood education. Work to improve all schools — charter schools and vouchers don’t help all families. Empower educators. Look at the whole child; stop the standardized testing madness. And always remember your own words about the balance between individual and governmental responsibility.

Just don’t tell my kids that yours are getting that puppy, OK?

Marjorie Ingall is the East Village Mamele columnist for the Forward and a contributing writer at Self magazine.


Show We Can Listen and Learn
By Deborah E. Lipstadt

My tradition teaches that “shem tov k’shemen tov,” a good name is like fine oil. Our country’s name has been increasingly reviled in the past eight years. Americans are often embarrassed or frightened to identify themselves as citizens of this country when they go abroad.

Without sacrificing America’s strength and position in the world, demonstrate that we can listen and learn from others. We do not have all the answers. My tradition also teaches: “Who is wise? He who learns from everyone.”

Go out and teach what it is that makes America exceptional, demonstrate America’s goodness and, when appropriate, learn from others.

Deborah E. Lipstadt is the Dorot Professor of Modern Jewish and Holocaust Studies at Emory University and the author, most recently, of “History on Trial: My Day in Court with David Irving” (HarperCollins, 2005).


Take Things Personally
By Noam Neusner

During the campaign, your critics often said that the only thing you cared about, ultimately, was you. So what? That burning egotism got you elected president.

Whether you’re running for president or actually doing the job, you shouldn’t be afraid of acting out of self-interest. If some foreign leader offends you, be offended. If a political ally crosses you, cut her loose. If terrorists attack our people or our friends, don’t wall off the pain and the impulse for revenge and response.

Don’t separate yourself from the duties of the office — you are the office. Nobody voted for you so that you could admire the Oval Office without using its full power. Use it. Be bold. Take everything personally. Historians will look for it, and the voters demand it.

Noam Neusner, a columnist for the Forward, served as President Bush’s principal economic and domestic policy speech writer from 2002 to 2004.


Break Down Some More Barriers
By Kathleen Peratis

Having just broken down one barrier, you now have the opportunity to tear down another.

First, get Congress to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act, a nasty bit of business signed into law by President Bill Clinton in 1996, which bars federal recognition of same-sex marriage and permits states to do the same.

Second, see to it that Congress passes the Uniting American Families Act, which would afford gay couples the same status as other couples in our immigration laws.

Third, by executive order, repeal the 1993 executive order known as “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell,” in which President Clinton, reneging on a campaign promise, authorized the military to engage in a kinder, gentler bigotry against gay people.

Do these three things and you will keep your campaign promises, bring honor to your administration and dignity to gay people, and render authentic defense to marriage. Yes you can.

Kathleen Peratis, a columnist for the Forward, is a partner at Outten & Golden LLP and a trustee emerita of Human Rights Watch.


Be Careful
By Letty Cottin Pogrebin

Though the dynamics of history hinge on multiple forces, it is also true that history can be made by one person — and by the loss of one person.

At this moment of extraordinary hope and promise, despite my euphoria, I can’t help thinking of a keinahora: Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King Jr., Bobby Kennedy and Yitzhak Rabin were healers, seekers of peace, and advocates for justice and inter-group harmony. God only knows what the world would have been like had they lived out their lives.

In Barack Obama, hope has again been incarnated in human possibility. So I’m worried. Maybe because I’m a Jewish mother, my first piece of advice to our new president is: Don’t take physical risks. Err on the side of caution. Don’t plunge into the crowds, however adoring. Change the world, rescue the economy, play basketball, but please don’t slip away from your Secret Service detail.

Letty Cottin Pogrebin, a founding editor of Ms. Magazine and past president of Americans for Peace Now, is the author of “Deborah, Golda, and Me: Being Female and Jewish in America” (Crown, 1991), among other books.


Know Faith’s Limits
By Thane Rosenbaum

Your ascendancy to the White House is a demonstration of many things, but it was largely predicated on faith. Voters ignored your relative inexperience, the vague nature of your positions and your creepy connections to the Rev. Jeremiah Wright — and placed their faith in you. You said, “Yes we can.” We’re now taking the leap that you, actually, can.

But please don’t overvalue the symbolic statement of possibility that your victory represents. When dealing with terrorists and rogue nations, your personal magnetism and transcendent faith in conciliation over muscle will only go so far. It will take more than oratory and ovations to protect our country. All the goodwill that you generated will not, magically, end evil, and complacency should not become the new face of American foreign policy. Allowing our enemies to believe that you are naïvely without resolve would, ultimately, breach our faith.

Thane Rosenbaum, a novelist, essayist and the John Whelan Distinguished Lecturer at Fordham Law School, is the author of “The Myth of Moral Justice: Why Our Legal System Fails to Do What’s Right” (HarperCollins, 2004).


Save the World Before Repairing It
By David Wolpe

At the end of the story of Noah, God promises never to destroy the world again. The Bible does not say that we will never destroy the world. There is no more urgent task for you as president than this: to seek by all possible means to contain weapons of mass destruction.

No one should minimize the problems of economic distress, health care, environmental protection and stabilization of the international order. But the terrifying urgency of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons overrides the otherwise pressing issues of the day.

History may disdain a president who fails to uplift the poor and strengthen the social fabric of our nation. But history, or what is left of it, will never forgive a president who violates the following imperative: Preserve the world from those who would destroy it — blessing lives not only in the good we do, but in the evil we avert.

Rabbi David Wolpe is the rabbi of Sinai Temple in Los Angeles and the author, most recently, of “Why Faith Matters” (HarperOne).


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