Back in New York for a few days, and reading the Times (on paper, of course), I’m reminded how publicly Jewish a city New York is―compared, say, to London or Paris, the only other cities I know well, where Jews and Jewishness do not (except for Israel and Palestine) make news.
In Monday’s paper, Anthony Weiner on the road to public forgiveness was the subject of a longish piece, “Courting Group of Voters With a Strict Moral Code, Weiner Faces a Challenge.”
The article frames a striking photograph of Weiner, sitting at a long table in profile, wearing a yarmulke, looking like a slightly overgrown, penitent Bar Mitzvah boy, surrounded by at least ten black-hatted, payes-wearing, bearded rabbis solemnly debating his political future. Oy, not only has he exposed his crotch (almost) on the internet, his (betrayed) wife is not Jewish! A difficult case.
To my astonishment, I learn, Weiner is doing well in the polls, but the votes (and moral approval) of the ultra-Orthodox would solidify his lead. A woman, “an Orthodox Jew accompanying her mother to [a senior] center,” summarized the more “forgiving” view: “What he did was harmless. It wasn’t like it was embezzlement. Let’s forgive the guy.” If “we” could forgive Clinton and move on, why punish Anthony Weiner? Especially if he has been helpful in the past to the “community.”
“A Question of Forgiving” is the title of a column in Sunday’s Metropolitan section about Eliot Spitzer and his run for city comptroller (in a self-financed campaign). Spitzer is asking for “forgiveness,” he has said in public, in order to qualify for the position. The column compares his situation with that of Norman Mailer who ran for mayor nine years after pleading guilty to stabbing his wife at a party. In that case, it seems, even feminists (!) forgave him since Bella Abzug and Gloria Steinem advised him on the campaign because they believed in his vision for “urban revitalization.” So since they were able to “compartmentalize”―set aside their dislike of his personal behavior, shouldn’t the rest of us be ready to look past Spitzer’s indiscretions and admire his vision of a less powerful Wall Street?
As a Jew, I mainly feel embarrassment that these two quite ridiculous, hubristic Jewish men are the topic of so much serious attention, and might even have a chance to display their arrogant personalities in an official capacity. But beyond that is my feminist memory of how Geraldine Ferraro was treated in her role as the first woman nominated for national office. Ferraro was vilified for the dodgy financial schemes of her husband, and then hounded for her position on abortion because of her Catholic identity. This gutsy woman could not get a break.
The analogy isn’t perfect, I realize, but there is something to it: why do “we” find it so easy to excuse men for their…imperfections, but impossible to forgive a woman (think Hillary and her cookies)?
Anthony Trollope pondered these questions in Can You Forgive Her, one of his arguably feminist novels. Check it out if you want a satisfyingly long summer read.