Years before many of the investment bankers responsible for the financial crisis now gripping our nation were even born, an unprecedented event shook the world. On October 6, 1973, Egypt launched a surprise attack on the State of Israel.
Far from a coincidence, the date had been chosen to inflict the maximum amount of damage possible. Only ten days after Rosh Hashana, the start of the Jewish new year, October 6th was the absolute holiest of Jewish holidays: Yom Kippur. For thousands of years, Jews worldwide typically spent the holiday praying, fasting, and asking God for forgiveness, and for the two-and-a-half decades that Israel had been in existence, Jews in Israel also avoided using electricity, automobiles, or fire, bringing the country to a virtual halt. 1973 was different from most years, however. In 1973, for many, choosing to pray meant risking death, and the survival of Israel was at stake. Consequently, the Israeli Defense Force fought for three weeks straight, eventually pushing Syria out of the Golan Heights and Egypt west of the Suez Canal. Despite the gravity of the holiday, it was clear to Jews everywhere that there was no option but to fight, however upset it might make God.
Thirty-five years later, such clarity seems to have been lost in the midst of adversaries far more subtle and confounding than actual armies: negatively sloping graphs on CNBC and credit-default swaps. The 110th Congress -- one day after failing to reassure not only the United States of America, but the entire world, by passing legislation that would have allowed investors to grant some semblance of trust to their fellow creditors and debtors -- decided to do the only thing it could do. Recess.
Though tanks are not bearing down on the Beltway, make no mistake about it -- lives are on the line now, just as they were for Israel. With employer-based health care coverage in an already fragmented, disastrous state (thanks to previous Republican Congresses), even those lucky enough to be insured for medical conditions today may not be so lucky one month from now. Tens of thousands of people will lose their jobs as a result of the events that transpire in the days to come, just as thousands on Wall Street already have. In this country, not having a job means not having the health insurance you might need to pay for an operation that could save your life. (Just ask anyone suffering from cancer who was fired from their job, but can't declare bankruptcy anymore thanks to the Bankruptcy Reform Act of 2005.)
Yet with the Jewish holiday of Rosh Hashana bearing down, there was simply nothing the House of Representatives could do. Joseph Lieberman would be gone from...the Senate. Jewish Representatives wouldn't be able to think on...the thought of empty stomachs that they might have to grapple with on Yom Kippur, ten days away. Indeed, there was seemingly no way that the fraction of Jewish politicians in the House could stay in Washington to decide the economic fate of the nation. Naturally, this meant that non-Jewish Representatives deserved breaks, too.
Let it be known: the actions of those 435 members of Congress who comprise the House of Representatives -- and the decisions of those Jewish Congressmen who left Washington especially -- are nothing less than deplorable. Each Representative absent from the confines of the Capitol should be deeply ashamed, for at this moment, there is nothing more important to the security of our nation -- and therefore to the security of the State of Israel, one of the United States's staunchest allies -- than ensuring the immediate stability of the economy. Whatever you might think of Henry Paulson's $700 billion bailout package -- and there is no question it was deeply flawed -- given that the stock market and credit markets will be opening on time on Tuesday and Wednesday morning, there is absolutely no excuse for any holiday to interrupt the work that needs to be done to craft at least a partial antidote to the current mess.
That is not to say that there is anything wrong with ordinary American Jews going to synagogue on the High Holidays -- far from it. The ability to observe religious events as one sees fit is one of America's great virtues. Nonetheless, government officials have a responsibility to put their country before their personal lives, and it is not unreasonable to think that doing so might involve missing certain holidays or events, however important. After all, as we have all seen over the past several months, the Federal Reserve and Treasury Department worked on divvying up failing banks over weekends specifically to avoid inciting panic in the markets during the week. (Most of the dire announcements came on Sundays.) What Congress has done is the exact opposite. It has failed to serve voters, and fled the scene. It's both shocking and pathetic.
We still have much to learn, apparently. When Israel was in desperate straits and required decisive action to save the country, its political leaders and soldiers were there to save it. Now that America finds itself in the same position, its leaders are using religion as a poor excuse to leave citizens on their own, while simultaneously raising the chance of precipitating an even more severe global panic than the one they helped create the day before. "Happy New Year," indeed.
At least one thing is clear: Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's view of the world is wrong. For if there is a Zionist conspiracy to selfishly rule the world, the Zionists are conspicuously absent.
Aaron Greenspan is the author of Authoritas: One Student's Harvard Admissions and the Founding of the Facebook Era.
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