Last weekend, hundreds of young Jews descended on Florida to convince their grandparents to vote for Senator Obama, earning wide press coverage, including in the UK. "The Great Schlep", organised by the pro-Obama Jewish Council for Education and Research, may have had a humorous edge, but it has entrenched the idea that if Obama loses the swing state of Florida, it will be down to racist old Jews.
More than 2.5 million people have watched a video in which comedienne Sarah Silverman asks, "You know why your grandparents don't like Barack Obama? It's because his name sounds scary. It sounds Muslim..." and tells Jewish grandchildren to "educate" their nanas that they are not so different from black people, after all.
Now, it's true, some elderly Jews may not vote for Obama because they are racist - although, so far, the most notable racist voting in this campaign has come from the African-American community, which in the Democratic primaries often turned out 90 per cent strong for Obama; and although recent analysis indicates that polls actually underestimate support for Obama among white voters (NYT, October 11). But elderly Jews, like all Jews, and indeed all Americans, have very good reasons not to vote for Obama. Here is a candidate who believes we should be talking to an Iranian president who openly states his genocidal intentions towards Israel; whose dear mentor, Rev Jeremiah Wright, has supported divestment against Israel; and who counts among his advisers Zbigniew Brzezinski, the anti-Israel former national-security adviser to Jimmy Carter. All this before even considering Obama's complete lack of administrative experience, his far-left voting record, his close association with a domestic terrorist (Bill Ayers) and convicted felon (Tony Rezko), his reluctance to pursue a winning strategy in Iraq, and the haziness surrounding his plans if he is actually voted into office.
You do not have to be a racist to cast your vote elsewhere, and I hope that the Bubbies and Zaidas of Florida gave their condescending grandchildren a piece of their mind when they implied otherwise.
Two weeks ago, I wrote about the high cost of Jewish living. A case in point: my family wanted to buy a succah this year. At the various outlets we visited in North-West London, even the most basic units - made with metal frames and canvas, seating four - could not be found for much less than £200. A succah seating 10 was in the region of £300. Yet at Argos, all the raw materials for a large succah - metal poles and canvas - are available for a total of £50 and can be put together in half an hour or less. So why are the community's succah-sellers charging consumers four times that?
It is hard to get through this time of the year without hearing someone complaining about the deterioration of Simchat Torah from the modest, joyful celebration of their childhood - whenever that was - into mayhem, complete with practical jokes, drunkenness and youth running wild in the synagogues. I agree that the blurring of the line between Simchat Torah and Purim can make it unpleasant. However, take comfort in the thought that it has ever been so. As far back as 1663, Samuel Pepys described in his diaries his first visit to a shul - the Spanish and Portuguese in Creechurch Lane in London (which in 1701 moved to Bevis Marks). He was horrified: "But, Lord! to see the disorder, laughing, sporting, and no attention, but confusion in all their service, more like brutes than people knowing the true God, would make a man forswear ever seeing them more and indeed I never did see so much, or could have imagined there had been any religion in the whole world so absurdly performed as this. Away thence with my mind strongly disturbed with them..."
It was, of course, Simchat Torah. Plus ça change...
Miriam Shaviv is the JC's comment editor