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The Shmegege Vote: 2008

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shmegege [shmeh∙geh'∙geh], noun: Yiddish word meaning buffoon, idiot, ignoramus

A whispering campaign might be better because that would connote shame, or at least discomfort. Instead, anti-Obama e-mails -- by Jews, for Jews -- continue to make the rounds:

Don't believe the Christian business because he really is a Muslim;

No, he actually is a Christian, but no matter what he says, don't believe he's with Israel because at heart he's a radical and, trust me, he has a pro-Palestinian agenda.

Oprah left that church but Obama stayed because he truly buys into what that antisemite minister is selling, so don't get taken in by all that denunciation business.

Offline, too, there are those "just between us" declarations. My eighty five-year-old cousin tried to deck a guy at his senior citizen center who announced "I'm never going to vote for a shvartzer," though unfortunately he was slowed by his emphysema and held back by his wife. Yesterday, at lunch, a friend confided how shaken she'd been at a recent wedding when she discovered everyone at her table -- all Jews who had voted for Clinton, Gore and Kerry -- felt compelled to explain they were going for McCain because he when push comes to shove, you just cannot trust a black to do right by us. Saddest of all, another pal -- successful, lively, chic, overtly Jewish three days a year -- announced, "I wish I could bring myself to vote for him, but I can't." Her brow would have furrowed in distress but for the Botox.

Jews and blacks together always seemed as natural to me as peanut butter and jelly. We understood each other. We were fighting the same fight against the same enemy. I recall everyone's horror when my Queens College classmate, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner died with their brother-in-freedom James Chaney. I remember how thrilled we were to see those rabbis marching with Martin Luther King, Jr. in Selma.

Of course, you'd have to be willfully stupid not to be aware of the prejudice. Over the years, members of each group sang out variations on the "They steal from us" and the "Deep down they hate us" theme. Still, that night Obama secured the nomination, I assumed most of my fellow Jews were, like me (a Hillary supporter), saying the Shehecheyanu, a thank you prayer to God for bringing us to this marvelous day. An African-American as the candidate of a major political party!

Many were, but what about the others with the tight lips? My 2008 concern has nothing to do with the thousands of American Jews who will vote for McCain because they sincerely believe in him and the Republican agenda. It has to do with the nature of the case against Barack Obama. Too many Jews are buying into the same sort of blood libel and belligerent ignorance that has tormented our people throughout our history.

"He really is a Muslim with a hidden agenda that will lead to the destruction of the State of Israel" has the same moral worth as Henry Ford's accusation in The International Jew of a secret conspiracy among Jews to achieve world dominance. (Ford quotes the "protocols," fictitious memoranda from purported Zionist conspiracy meetings: "To destroy Gentile industry, we shall... encourage among the Gentiles a strong demand for luxuries, all-enticing luxuries...," as if without Jews the ladies from Grosse Pointe would have chosen Sears Roebuck over Paul Poiret.)

"Shvartzer" = "kike." When challenged, the Jews who use the word say no, no, shvartz is the Yiddish word for black; so it's descriptive. But in its entire history of usage, I venture that no one has ever used "shvartzer" as an honorific.

And sadly, my super-hip pal's "I wish I could bring myself to vote for him, but I can't" is nothing more than a twenty-first century's version of the early twentieth's pusillanimous "I personally would not mind having Jewish lawyers in the firm, but they wouldn't feel comfortable here."

When that curtain is drawn in the voting booth, are some Jews going to abandon their remembrance of cruelties large and small and pull a lever because of the heady power rush of having permission to believe lies because they are Jewish lies ? Are we going to let our neshumas, our souls, shrivel in fear of the new ? Will we accept any dreck we read in an e-mail, any falsehood we hear, just because it comes from a fellow Jew?

November fourth is an important test for us. We will get to see if we are mensches or if have turned into the people we most despise.