A new national poll finds John F. Kennedy is the most popular president of the last half century. The CNN/ORC International survey found 90 percent of all Americans approve of how Kennedy handled his job as president. No other president of the last half century even comes close. However if one looks at his accomplishments during his short tenure as president its mediocre at best. So why was he so popular?
Granted,, Kennedy’s untimely end may play a part in his popularity. He’s become enshrined as a martyr, particularly in Democratic households. But William McKinley was another popular, energetic president cut down by an assassin’s bullet. He faded from the popular mind in a way JFK has not.
Kennedy had style but not substance. A poll was taken of the radio listeners and television viewers of his presidential debate with Richard Nixon. The radio listeners of the debate favored Nixon; those who watched on television thought Kennedy won. True, much of the adulation for Kennedy during his life and since, originated in arguably superficial attributes; his youth, personal attractiveness and sophistication and many of us are seduced by those traits. The country was hypnotized by his Hollywood looks and his beautiful young family and he took advantage of the media any chance he got. His press conferences were interesting, compelling and humorous. It seems the thing that gave Kennedy’s such greate success was the thing that his detractors often criticized, his charisma. He had such a feel for the importance of inspirational leadership and the willingness to use it to great ends. But his election at age 43 to succeed the 70-year-old Dwight D. Eisenhower represented a generational shift in American leadership that was as much a source of popular excitement as Kennedy’s individual qualities. As he said in his inaugural address, “the torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans – born in this century, tempered by war, disciplined by a hard and bitter peace”.
My mother told me that my father cried the day Kennedy was assassinated and many I spoke to said their parents did the same. However Rabbi Baruch Dopelt quotes his mother ” if I knew then what I know now about the immoral things he did then I would not of had the same sad tears”. At the time Kennedy famously came across as caring about his family and about the nation.
The brothers sold Yossef and he wound up in Egypt and then, after a period of living in master Potifar’s house as the head butler, ended up in jail. In jail Yossef met two Individuals, the head butler and the head baker.
The attribute of caring for others was Yossef’s ticket out of jail and eventually lead to his appointment by Pharaoh as Viceroy of the superpower of the world, Egypt. As we read in last week’s parsha (40:7) there were 4 words that Yossef uttered “MADUA PENECHEM RAIM HAYOM?”-why are you so sad today? The caring, sincere concern, which they sensed, of Yosef towards the 2 jailed officers of Pharaoh enabled them to open up to him and eventually disclose their personal dreams.
We see in this parsha as well, It says (41,56) “VAYISHBOR LE’MITZRAIM”- Joseph opened all the containers of stored food during the famine yearshimself and gave the people. Again we see an act of caring on Yossef’s part.
Mr. Yehuda Fouzailoff, a prominent founder of the Bukharian community in New York, said one such person who fits that description is his brother-in-law, Mr. Hannan Benyamini. Hannan, as he was lovingly known, was one of the few who was recognized by just his first name, cared very much about his community. “People sensed his sincerity and perhaps this quality was one that made him so successful as a leader. He was then able then to spread different tasks among prominent individuals in the close-knit community”. Mr. Fouzailoff continues “I never saw a leader quite like him. His goal was to bring individuals to synagogue on a weekly basis. Because this was the Jewish thing to do; it worked! Every week after the services there was a Kiddush. The wives came to help; they cut vegetables for Israeli salad which combined well with the Shabbat eggs”. This warm, caring and homey environment eventually grew to a very big gathering on Shabbat and eventually the enormous community it is now.”
This caring quality is evident throughout our Torah especially as a prelude to leadership. Both Moshe and David spent time as shepherds in order to fine tune their character for caring. The ingredient for caring comes from humility. One has to be subservient to his people; they come first.
How many times did Moshe attempt to sacrifice himself for the sake of the Jewish people? David didn’t care about his honor by dancing for the sake of G-d. There were those who didn’t think it was dignified. Nevertheless, G-d was honored by David’s devotion.
It says that Yossef was cold to his brothers when they greeted him. Although they did not recognize him, he recognized them. Later on though it said Yossef could not hold back the tears and disclosed to them who he was.
What soften Yossef from his cold feeling towards his brothers? What changed his attitude towards them?
A very important growing experience, among the brothers, occurred in this week’s parsha. Lets examine the verses.
Yaacov was hesitant to send Benyamin, his youngest son and the son of his most beloved wife Rachel, to Egypt. The viceroy, Yossef, who’s real identity was not yet disclosed to Yaacov and his sons, offered a proposition. If Yaacov’s family would like to purchase food, the youngest brother had to travel with the other brothers down to Egypt. This did not sit very well with Yaacov, considering that Benyamin’s older bother from the same mother, was already lost in Egypt. It wasn’t until Yehuda’s guarantee that if he does not return Benyamin unharmed then he will lose his share in OLAM HABA-the next world, that Yaacov acquiesced to their request.
For thousands of years ever since then, the tribe of Yehuda would act as a protector for the tribe of Benyamin. As a matter of fact, this is the reason that their tribes are adjacent to each other in their respective territories in Yerushalayim. Most Jews today are from these two neighboring tribes.
When Yossef saw how Yehuda, who was from a different mother, cared for and protected his little brother Benyamin; how he was willing to give up his life both in this world and his olam habah, he realized they have grown , matured and learned to care deeply for each other. He thought now I forgive them. Now is the time to reunite.
I heard a beautiful story at the eulogy for Rabbi Joseph Grunblatt this past week.
It was right before the first scud missile attack where the mad man, Saadam Hussain was threatening to launch these weapons into Israel. One of the congregants of Rabbi Grunblatt synagogue, the Queens Jewish Center, called with a concern. Apparently his son was learning in a Yeshiva in Israel for the year. The father wanted to know how soon can he bring him home back to the states before the rocket attack starts in the following week. Rabbi Grunblatt said “I thought you were going to ask me how long should he stay, perhaps another year!!. He will be fine there.”
Well the following Sunday, when the evil monster Hussain promised to launch the attack, the parents of this boy were glued to the TV set watching CNN coverage and there was a knock on the door. It was Rabbi Grunblatt. He wanted to sit with the parents and see the coverage with them.
As one knows their history, Israel was able to intercept the majority of the scuds. Miraculously we had not one fatality throughout the whole ordeal.
Rabbi Grunblatt apparently thought their child was in no danger from the scud attack. This is exactly what the Greeks wanted to accomplish in the Chanukkah story. They wanted us to abandon our spirituality. They wanted to take away the Torah that we learn. Torah is what makes us Jewish. We are not prepared to do that. We would not let them succeed.
The good Rabbi also showed humanity; he showed he cared and he showed what any good leader should do.