Jews For Obama

A Moving Response to a Loyal but Saddened Supporter

TO: Those Concerned
FR: Tara Sonenshine
DATE: March 31, 2008
RE: Jews For Obama

JewsforObama.NET is a grassroots website that began with a small group of volunteers who wanted to circulate a letter of support for Senator Obama.  It quickly grew in size and stature as the letter wound its way around the world, gaining prominent signatures and creating a space for commentary.  As of the writing of this memo, over 600 people have supplied content to the website.

In a recent Q & A exchange, a Jewish supporter expressed concern about media reporting on the events surrounding Pastor Jeremiah Wright. I chose to answer her, privately, but shared my answers to her questions with the other founders of the JewsforObama.NET website.  Again, this is a grassroots website—not an official campaign organization.

The supporter (whose support was wavering) read my response and then called me to talk further.  In the end, she felt very satisfied with the responses.  She wants to be involved in the campaign and she has agreed to let me share her questions and my answers with both JewsforObama.NET and, if the campaign so wanted, with the’s official website.

Here, for your perusal, is the exchange between Terry M. Irwin and Tara Sonenshine:

From Terry:

First of all, please read this note from a loyal but saddened supporter:

I met Senator Obama at President Bush’s Illinois Inaugural Gala on January 19, 2005. I have a picture of the Senator and me that I have been so proud of. I said to him that I hoped he had no skeletons in his closet because I wanted him to be our President. He said that he had lead a very boring life. Fast forward… Senator Obama has made it this far as a black man, supposedly not “experienced enough”, and most important a uniter of all people. He has proven so many doubters wrong. And.. there is a skeleton.

I am a Jewish woman who has supported Barack Obama from obviously the beginning. I have made donations to his campaign ( I have never contributed to anyone else’s campaign), and I proudly have a Barack poster on the side of my Volvo Cross Country. I have been, for the first time, emotionally connected to someone running for President of our country. In terms of my age, I was a freshman in college when President Kennedy was shot, and like everybody else vividly remember that day. In my mind, Senator Obama was the next John Kennedy.

I realize that there was a myth of the Kennedys– before CNN and sound bites, etc, but that was then, and now we have modern technology that records all and can be used against people.

I cannot convince my 85 year old Aunt that Senator Obama is not a Muslim; she will not vote for him. BUT.. I have been for him since 2005. I wrote a check after his “Big Speech”,, but before Wright’s sound bites about the Jews and the Italians came out. I am appalled that the members of the Senator’s church– including his own young children– heard comparisons of the Israelis and Nazi’s, and sat through disparaging comments about Italians. There is no doubt that Senator Obama has been exposed to and worked with people of all religions, nationalities, etc. But not everyone has, and they have been listening to how many hundreds of sermons filled with venom and faulty logic? I am aware that some black churches have a unique aspect about their services. However, no longer can I say to myself that Reverend Wright’s ramblings don’t involve me. When he sounded out about damning America, I listened to the whole statement, and also realized that people hearing that sermon weren’t going to then decide that they hate America and leave their country. But, as a Jew ( who has never experienced anti-semitism), I cannot be assured that people in that church that day and probably other days, will not embrace negative, naive feelings towards Jews and other nationalities.

I am confused and disheartened, but mainly because I don’t know what Senator Obama can do or say to someone like me– a Supporter who no longer feels I can try to convince my Hillary friends why Barack is , besides so articulate and charming, a Good Guy who genuinely is a uniter.

I ask you to respond to this letter after giving it sufficient thought as to what needs to be done. I deeply believe that Senator Obama can and might be brought down by Reverend Wright. I want to be able to vote for the man that I wanted to run in 2005.

Terry M. Irwin

From:  Tara

Dear Terry,

I wish I could meet you in person to allay your concerns, which were so eloquently and elegantly presented in your e-mail.  But I hope that my words will help you. 

By way of background, I am a journalist by training—10 years with ABC NEWS, and I served in the Clinton Administration on the National Security Council.  Had Senator Obama not come along, I probably would be campaigning for Senator Clinton.  But Senator Obama did come along and changed my view about what we need in this country.

I met Senator Obama over a year ago at a small gathering in his campaign office and I have followed every word of every speech and policy pronouncement in the months since. Like a dogged reporter, I check the facts, I talk to sources, I ask questions and I probe for answers until I am satisfied.

Like you, I am a Jewish woman—Vice President of my synagogue, and very active in Jewish affairs. Like you, I am appalled by much of what Jeremiah Wright has preached.  But here is how I approach the issue:

Firstly, I begin by asking myself—who is the best person to lead America and the world, and who is the best person to keep my Jewish community safe and protected in Israel and around the globe.

For me, I know in my heart and in my mind, that Barack Obama believes 100% in the security of Israel and says so at every opportunity.  I know that when he flew over Israel, he saw how tiny the country is, how beautiful it is, how important it is that Israel is the only established democracy in the region.  That is always his starting point, and mine. 

Secondly, I know that Barack Obama is a peacemaker and stands the best chance of bringing a lasting peace to the Middle East.  I know that by ending our involvement in Iraq, he frees up the resources and energies of our country to re-engage in the Middle East, and to devote more troops to Afghanistan, where the real threat emanates.  I think he will get us out of Iraq, responsibly and safely.  We have to get ourselves extrictaed from this morass in Iraq.  We need to build up credibility all around the world.  Obama will do that.

I look around and see such great public servants coming to support Obama.  I  take great comfort in the fact that Daniel Kurtzer, American’s former Ambassador to Israel and Egypt has publicly endorsed Obama.  Diplomats like Ambassador Kurtzer don’t normally endorse candidates.  But this man knows that Obama can do what must be done to further the peace process.  I am gratified that we have him on the Obama team.

I remind myself that it was Obama who stood up for Israel’s right to self defense after the attacks from Lebanon and it was Obama who co-sponsored the Palestinian Anti-Terrorism Act that would discourage aid to Hamas unless it recognized Israel, renounced violence and disarmed.

Then I think about this pastor—Reverend Wright.  What power should he have –to interrupt—the road to the presidency for Barack Obama, by his words.  I will not allow this pastor to cut down my faith in my candidate.  Yes, his sermons are filled with venom and faulty logic.  But Pastor Wright is not running for President.  Barack is.  And if Pastor Wright’s followers believe his nonsense, then we have a good deal of work to do in this coutry to educate whites and blacks about each other, about America, about Judaism—about ourselves.  Senator Obama is a bridge builder and an educator and a leader.  We need him now.

The Wright controversy was a test—a test of Obama’s ability to weather a major political storm; a test of his ability to heal some of the wounds from the Pastor’s words.  I think he passed that test by delivering an honest, genuine speech that spoke truth to power and that did not mince words.  Obama showed that he could do it—He rose to the occasion.

The episode, terrible has it has been, has given Obama a chance to remind people that he goes to a Unity Church of Christ. He is a man of faith but he can and will speak out against abhorent language and hate mongering of any type.

Obama reminds us that African American and Jews have worked together for many years, but that those relationships have gotten frayed and are in need of bridging.  When things get hard, we don’t walk away.  We work harder.  If things go bad in America, we don’t move to another country.  We stay and fix it.  If something goes wrong in your church and the pastor sounds ugly—address it…take it on….and let’s be grateful that Rev. Wright is moving on.  We voters have to move on now and resist the temptation to get swept up in the Wright soap opera.  We have more important work to do. 

And so I return to my faith; to my core belief in this man.  For me, he is wise and just;  He has instinct and judgment.  He is not a perfect man.  I do not expect perfection.  I expect honesty, sound leadership, inspirational leadership and some warmth and humanity.  I expect…and I see…a man who is practical but purposeful, grounded but soaring and lofty,– the kind of man that will build a team to run our domestic and international affairs with good values and strong knowledge.

In the end, I trust myself and my own initial instinct on Obama.  He is the real deal.  He will make a wonderful president of the United States of America;


Tara Sonenshine

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