Thursday, November 01, 2012

Rabbi and pop-culture star Shmuley Boteach adds political candidate to résumé 

Thou shalt support marriage, by starring in a reality show called "Shalom in the Home" and writing a best-selling book for couples entitled "Kosher Sex" Thou shalt spread Jewish values, to devotees including Michael Jackson and Cory Booker. And thou shalt confront the wicked, which for Boteach meant one clear thing in 2012: Run for Congress.

Two weeks before Election Day, and a few days before Hurricane Sandy temporarily shut down campaigning, Boteach debated his opponent before a packed Korean American community center in northern New Jersey. Most people there had never met a Hasidic Jew, never mind a rabbi running for Congress, never mind one leaping into the air and jabbing his fingers to make his points. Many wore headphones so they could hear an English-speaking interpreter, but some things just can't be translated.

"It's time for the Shmul-ification of the 9th District!" the short, bearded Boteach boomed in his closing statement, which somehow weaved together Moammar Gaddafi, Kim Jong Il and the fact that his opponent, U.S. Rep. Bill Pascrell Jr. (D), apparently skipped the recent regional Korean American festival.
Across the room, faces looked puzzled, then entertained. Clapping erupted. Even the couple wearing the "Ukrainians for Pascrell" buttons whooped and cheered.

This is the curious campaign of Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, part spiritual figure, part entertainer and now retail-politician-in-training. He's surely the only congressional candidate this election year who shifts seamlessly during stump speeches from the Talmud to Oprah.

"I didn't understand most of what he was talking about, but I loved when he was yelling about morality and tyrants," said a 71-year-old part-time store clerk in Englewood who declined to give her name but said she was leaning toward Pascrell.

If he wins, the 45-year-old Boteach (pronounced Bo-tay-ach) will be the first rabbi in Congress. But he's used to being a novelty, an outlier.

He's a Hasidic Jew who hangs out mostly with secular Jews and non-Jews, speaks out in favor of gay rights and campaigned by dancing on the back of a Dominican Day parade float.

He's also a Republican when most American Jews are Democrats, including in his district, an ethnic stew of cities and suburbs across northern New Jersey.
But perhaps the biggest conflict is the one Boteach is having with himself since he decided to run for office.

Sure, he was willing to talk about Michael Jackson's sexuality with Larry King on CNN. He was fine with calling the national media when Gaddafi tried to set up a luxury tent on the Libyan-owned property next door to where Boteach lives with his wife and nine kids in suburban Englewood.

But politics? Might he finally be selling out?


Comments: Post a Comment

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?

Chaptzem! Blog