Barack Obama’s Note in Jerusalem’s Western Wall is Published Around the World

Situation

Barack Obama went to Israel and the West Bank recently in order to discuss issues surrounding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and continue his international campaign for president of the United States of America. I’m going to set aside how fascinating I find the fact that this is the first presidential race that has included vigorous international campaigning (and that’s exactly what it is so let’s not mince words), and only discuss what happened during his visit to the Western Wall (also known as the Kotel or Wailing Wall). After all, this is a blog concerned with religion, not international politics, and this is religion in the news day.

History of the Western Wall

In actuality, the wall is part of a far larger retaining wall that holds up one side of a mountain, on top of which lies an enormous platform which once had the Temple sitting on it. Now, the Dome of the Rock is up there (click HERE for a picture and more history). There are actually other spots where you can go and see parts of this old retaining wall and pray if you like, but Jews, for the most part, don’t. They stick it out right here on this little section: they think it’s the holiest spot of all the potential ones. But why?

Because centuries ago when the Turks controlled the Holy Land and the Jews were praying all over the area to be as close to the original site of the Temple as possible, they were annoying the Turks. So, the Turks wanted to give the Jews a set place that they could and had to pray. Thus, they picked the current Wailing Wall. It is therefore only historical precedent which makes the Jews believe the Western Wall has some added holiness (though the proximity to the site of the original Temple does help this feeling, somewhat more justly, I suppose), and that is why they pray there. Personally, I’ve never much enjoyed the experience of going to the Wall, but we can get into those reasons another time.

Obama and the Western Wall

It is customary to leave notes in the Wall addressed to God. Many Jews do this (you can even email or fax notes and look at the Wall via webcam any day but Saturday), and many non-Jews participate in this ritual as well, believing in the sanctity of this spot and that it’s God’s post office. So, when Obama went, he too left a note. It’s not like Obama to be politically uncouth, after all.

Now, some very unethical individual decided to remove Obama’s note and bring it to a newspaper in Israel which promptly published it. I think this is despicable – less the act of publication itself than the actual  removal of the note from the Wall. Fortunately, the chief rabbis in Israel, as well as the rabbi who supervises the Wall, agree with me, and I’m surprised and pleased to get to say this.

I had feared that the rabbis would have said something to the effect of not caring that it was removed because Barack Obama is just a gentile and may well be a damn Muslim. Yes, something incredibly stupid like that. This, honestly, was my fear – that they would further embarrass Israel, the Jewish people, and anyone with half a sense of decency by saying that Obama shouldn’t be leaving notes anyway. Thank goodness this is not their policy and it’s not how they behaved. They condemned the whole thing, saying that what any man puts in the Wall is his private business and communication with God. For perhaps the first time in my life, I will say, good job rabbis in Israel.

Media Reaction

The most fascinating part about this to me is not that someone took the piece of paper. I could have called that. Instead, I love the way other media, like the BBC for instance (where I read this story originally), behaved. They seemed to condemn the Israeli newspaper for publishing the note, agreeing that it was private and an inappropriate journalistic act, and then proceeded to publish the note in full again. It was as if they loved the fact that it had already been published so that they could ‘justly’ do it and never get any heat for it. I could hear those British pricks giggling behind the html I was viewing (but maybe that was just my medication wearing off).

In any case, in like fashion, I too would like to show you what Barack Obama wrote, not only to allow the hypocrisy of my own story to come full circle, but also to note the fact that the presidential candidate was obviously prepared for such an occurrence. Why do I say that? Because there is nothing particularly personal on his note that could ever be construed as embarrassing or problematic or able for anyone to take issue with. It was a fluff note – obviously sincere – but nonetheless, a fluff note. Nearly anyone could have written it:

Lord – Protect my family and me. Forgive me my sins, and help me guard against pride and despair. Give me the wisdom to do what is right and just. And make me an instrument of your will.

Personally, I would have loved to see a, “Let me kick John McCain’s old, white, wrinkly bitch-ass come November.”

What do you think about this whole situation?

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Pope Mixes Signals, Apologizing for Priestly Molestations While Focusing on World Youth Day

For South Park, a show that comments on and mocks so many facets of American society but also manages to focus on religion quite frequently, the fact that Catholic priests are repeatedly accused and often found guilty of child molestation seems nothing less than a really, really, really easy shot. Interestingly enough, molestation arises in a variety of episodes without the mention of Catholicism, including 406, “Cartman Joins NAMBLA” and 416, “The Wacky Molestation Adventure.” But episode 608, “Red Hot Catholic Love,” is definitely the big Catholicism and child molestation episode and has already been discussed at length in the post, Around the World Pic of the Day: The Vatican & Red Hot Catholic Love.

Apparently, like the United States earlier in the century, Australia has been hit by a host of scandals related to Catholic priests molesting young boys. Thus, Pope Benedict XVI, who I must say, I’ve been totally impressed with thus far as a world diplomat, is going to apologize. But why am I impressed? Well, this pope, like his predecessor, has not shied away from the public light. Maybe he’s a media whore, though I doubt it, or perhaps he just wants to use his influence as pope to send some positive messages and broker some deals. Fortunately for the world, most of those deals have emphasized peace and positive change.

Unfortunately, none of that change has related to the strictures of the Catholic church that would probably help curb child molestation, like say, allowing priests to marry women and live ‘normal lives’ (though I think they should be allowed to be gay too and marry men – full grown men – if that’s their preference, I don’t want to push it…one step at a time). But hey – change is still good if it’s in the right direction (unlike the change that pre-Vatican II Catholics like Mel Gibson want which is a reversion to the way things were before the Church said things like, sorry Jews for all the persecution since you didn’t f-up our savior).

However, the pope has met with Turks and Muslims (mostly due to a verbal faux pas) in an attempt to broker more peaceful relations and diffuse some tense situations. He has met with numerous world leaders about far more than the Catholics in their countries but also about maintaining peace and general human progress. It may sound like fluff and nonsense but when you’re the ruler of the tiniest country around but with the largest ex-pat community, so to speak (and a faith based community at that), you better believe that there’s not so much else you have to talk about. Except when it comes to apologizing for child molestation. Well, that and a climate change festival titled World Youth Day.

The mixing of these messages is not one that I see as tactically wise, though I understand where the sentiment comes from. It’s like when Charlie Sheen, the notorious sex addict, was involved with rumors about seeking girls that were a little too underage (yes, there’s underage and a little too underage) and then released a line of clothing for pre-school aged girls. Harmless? Probably. Well-intentioned? No doubt. Good timing? Oooo – not so much. And that’s how I feel about talking about World Youth Day while apologizing for Catholic sexual abuse scandals.

However, World Youth Day is about positive change in our daily lives in order to affect the environment for sustainable future development. Though I’m not big on the global warming rhetoric, as you may know, I do appreciate positive social and personal change for the sake of improving the environment and seeking more sustainable resources. So, large goofy hats off to you Pope Benedict XVI, and keep up the good work.

Robert Mugabe is a Worthless Asshole

As some of you may know, Robert Mugabe, former and unfortunately-now president of Zimbabwe, has been reelected (although using this word here is the equivalent of shitting all over the concept of elections) by a landslide after a run-off in which he ran unopposed. Why unopposed? Because his opponent who won the original election (Mugabe refused to stand down), a proponent of democratic change and running on that principle, stepped out of the election after 90 of his supporters were murdered by Mugabe’s forces and boycotted it generally because it was wrong and unfair.

Mugabe will be president of Zimbabwe for nearly three decades, and he is a giant piece of undemocratic shit. Look, democracy may not be the greatest or most viable system out there – some of the greatest Greek philosophers insisted that it was an enlightened monarch (that is to say, a Philosopher King) – but in a country that has elections, you should abide by the results, not be a giant piece of crap and a big baby when you lose and then use the military to force decent voter turnout in a sham rerun against no one because you murdered his supporters.

The world is shaking its puny, polio-ridden, malformed wrists in a less than menacing fashion. The African Union opposes this. Ooooo. Ban Kee Moon is not happy. Ahhhh. President George W. Bush has threatened sanctions and UN action. Yikes. Desmond Tutu, archbishop of Cape Town, wants international forces to restore order and the new rightful leader of Zimbabwe, officially ending Mugabe’s 28 year reign. I doubt that will happen, but it raises fascinating questions.

On the one hand, I think that the world should intervene because if a just and democratic world (though you could hardly call it that) doesn’t stick up for the oppressed everywhere then what good is it pretending like we do. On the other hand, should we respect states’ rights and not interfere in internal matters that aren’t bordering on genicide or genicidal (not that we even do that when we should). Frankly, I don’t think there’s any consistency to the action based on principle. Only on interest. That is to say that we would only be interfering physically in Zimbabwe if we had some serious reason to oust a government that didn’t support our endeavors. But this isn’t Cold War geopolitics anymore so even those interest-principles are harder to come by. In short, it’s a complicated series of events and interests that would lead to interference in Zimbabwe and though the world may shake its fists at Mugabe’s unjust and undemocratic treatment of the populace, it probably won’t do anything.

Do you think the world should interfere? How should it do so? If not, why? Are principles reason enough to invade or just kick Mugabe out? What if the U.S. had to act unilaterally? Is this the U.N.’s job?

Status Update: We’re no longer moving in where we thought we were – realized it wasn’t such a good decision. We’re now staying in a Kimpton hotel in downtown San Fran while we continue searching. Cyrus is here and we will search about, having left Sunnyvale because our friend came back home. Any suggestions on where to look or live? We’d love some help.

In the News: Immigration and the Changing Face of America

I want to talk about something that doesn’t really concern religion in the news: immigration and the changing face of America.

I recently heard that America’s population is rapidly growing but that 70%+ of that growth is going to be due to immigrants. A lot of people have a problem with this (even those who are not nativists and think that immigrants deserve a chance in this great country), and their gripes often come in the form of, “I don’t want a bunch of Mexicans abusing the system and not contributing to it.” Considering the fact that a growing problem has been illegal Mexicans using emergency rooms as doctors’ offices when they get a little cold, I can understand and appreciate the frustration. Quite frankly, I can’t blame any one of them for trying to come to this country – I would have probably tried too.

However, I’d like to steer this issue, if I may, and talk about the kinds of immigrants America should be letting in.

Our borders don’t feel safer or tighter, and to a point, I think we hardly know who we should be protecting ourselves from. No one believes that shoe and belt removal at the airport is helping anything. Indeed, I lived in Israel for two years, and I have a firm policy when it comes to airline security: if the Israelis don’t do it then it’s an unnecessary procedure. The Israelis do not make you remove shoes or belts.

Anyway, getting visas to this country is incredibly difficult and so is getting citizenship. Sure, that makes it easy for us to turn away every border-hopping Mexican but it also screws us in a totally different way. Brilliant people from all over the world want to come to this country. They want to work here, live here and contribute. And they’re frickin’ smart. These people should not be turned down. If the world is in a race for progress and wealth and success, these people are potential recruits that are getting turned down all the time. Ivy League Schools have huge percentages of international students – really smart ones – and most of those students are not allowed to remain in the U.S. after receiving their superb education. That is so dumb.

We are literally sending away (and often not letting in) smart people who will do a lot more for us as a society than the vast majority of voters. Oh, but they’re not Americans, you say.

Bullshit! Everyone is an American. We’re all the product of immigrants, which makes everyone in the world a potential America and gives them plenty of right to be here if they want to contribute and be a part of this rockin’ system. This country’s citizenship is not based on ethnicity, race, heritage or anything else of the sort. This is opposed to, say, being French. You can’t just become French. You can, however, just become American, and it’s what everyone of our ancestors did when they came to this country. They just became American. Now we have the ability to cherry-pick the world’s brightest people, causing a brain-drain everywhere else, and we turn them away in droves. And the ones that are allowed to stay for 12 or 36 months we make life very hard for on entry and exit and staying.

All I’m saying is that America is squandering an amazing chance to stay ahead, and if you don’t want to look at it like a competition, don’t. America is missing an amazing chance to hire not just this country’s best and brightest but the world’s most intelligent and capable people. Our system favors American Affirmative Action, but I’ll tell you what: never will I abide by quotas and affirmative action hiring. The best and most capable person for the job should get it and everyone else can deal with it. That should be our approach to hiring from the whole world. In this system of globalization it’s never been easier to get the best and to get the best for the right reasons – it’s time for American policies to reflect that ideal and that necessity.

What are your thoughts on the matter? Are you an immigrant or foreign national? Do you have a visa or visa problems? Tell me about your experiences.