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Kamala Harris: A Brilliant, Fierce Vice-President for the American People

The U.S. Senator from California hearkens back to the heroines of the Bible

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The heroes from the Hebrew Bible, for all of their flaws, may have shown their greatest wisdom and penchant for love when they married women outside of their faith, ethnicity and race.  And those women likewise showed extraordinary devotion and open-mindedness when they married Israelite men.

I have mentioned before that Joseph, the dreamer, married Asenath, an Egyptian.

David, a man of the greatest exuberance and vitality, married Bathsheba, a Hittite.

And Solomon, who was particularly revered for his wisdom, married the Queen of Sheba, an Ethiopian woman.

Of course, none of this means that Jewish men have been averse to marrying Jewish women.

But it strikes me that it often takes a pair of beautiful minds and souls when people of different religious, ethnic and/or racial backgrounds get married. 

I was thinking about this recently after former Vice President Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, chose Senator Kamala Harris, the first African-American woman and Asian-American woman to be named to a major party ticket, as his running mate.

And it got me thinking about conversations I used to have with my dear friend, Herb Goodwin, who was a judge in Massachusetts in the 1990s and into the 2000s.

Herb passed away in 2015, but when he was alive, he and I often talked about race, as well as baseball, movies and many other subjects.

Herb had worked in the U.S. Justice Department during the Kennedy and Johnson administrations; his brother, Richard, advised and wrote speeches for both of those presidents, including LBJ’s Voting Rights Act speech.

And Herb dedicated his life to “fairness for all,” as the Boston Globe wrote in his obituary.  Herb was so modest that he never talked to me about how he had served on state and local boards, councils and committees in the Bay State and fought racism, long before he became a state judge in 1990.

In early 2008, when my late wife, Barbara, and I were supporting Hillary Clinton in her first run for U.S. President, I was preparing to fly down to Houston, where I would volunteer to work for Clinton in the Texas primary and caucus.

When I told Herb, he was almost giddily excited and told his own wife, Rhoda, over the phone that I was volunteering.

Herb’s excitement was no doubt due to the fact that he had worked with such idealism for years on matters of fairness and justice.

I can recall that Herb, who spoke with a gravelly Boston accent, talked to me about Shirley Chisholm, the Democratic congresswoman, who ran for U.S. President in 1972.

Herb told me that Congresswoman Chisholm, the first African-American woman from a major party to run for president, had contended that she faced more discrimination as a woman than she had as an African-American.

Senator Harris has, of course, invoked Shirley Chisholm too over the years and understandably so.

There is no doubt that Kamala Harris, like Shirley Chisholm before her, has had to overcome much more than most of us.

She has clearly had to deal and still has to deal with slights and insults, as well as outright lies and racist and sexist slurs, that most of us, in particular white men, will never face.

One need only recall the pathetic reaction of some Trump appointees to her vintage prosecutorial questioning at hearings in recent years in the U.S. Senate.

The daughter of immigrants, an Indian-American mother and a Jamaican-American father, Senator Harris is a brilliant woman with a fierce intellect, who has dispatched with ease a number of flustered, white men from Jeff Sessions to Brett Kavanaugh to our solipsist-in-chief, whose entire world-view revolves around stoking white male fears.

But some white men, like my late friend Herb and I, come from a different tradition with an entirely different world-view.  It is a world-view that goes back to the heroes and heroines of the Bible.   

When I think of Kamala Harris, who is married to Douglas Emhoff, a Jewish man, I am reminded of those patriarchs and matriarchs I cited before, as well as Yael, a Kenite, who used her intelligence, alacrity and strength to dispense with Sisera and save the Israelites.

Like Yael and like Douglas Emhoff, who may be remembered for protecting Senator Harris when a spectator rushed the stage at a campaign event a year or so ago, Kamala Harris is a warrior.

She used her own fierceness, alacrity and intellect to work her way through the prosecutorial ranks in Alameda County and San Francisco before becoming D.A. in the latter district, attorney general of California and U.S. Senator from California.

At 55, she is a year older than I am, and, like Senator Harris, I too went to an integrated, public, elementary school, where kids were bused in from different neighborhoods.

Unlike Senator Harris, I did not have a stroller’s eye view of the civil rights marches when I was growing up.  But the rabbi at my synagogue, Rabbi Robert Goldburg, did march in the South with Rev. Martin Luther King; he also shared a jail cell with Dr. King, and they were good friends.

Dr. King spoke at my old synagogue, Mishkan Israel, in the 1960s before my family became members.  To this day, I believe, there is still a lecture given in the name of Dr. King at my old temple in the suburbs of New Haven, Conn.

I mention all of this because any man, white, Black or otherwise, who has a brain and a soul, can see that Kamala Harris is exactly what we need right now in this country.

We need someone who can speak up against systemic racism in our criminal justice, education, housing and other sectors.

We need someone who, like Joe Biden, has empathy in droves, and who actually cares about all the stressors that people are enduring in the COVID-19 crisis, such as job losses, evictions, PTSD, remote schooling, as well as the risk of contracting the novel coronavirus.

Of course, some people are suffering more than others.

There are many minority and immigrant women and men, who are essential workers in agriculture and food-processing, who do not have the luxury of working from home, who may fear losing their jobs if they complain about lack of social distancing or lack of mask-wearing at work.

These are the kind of people from working-class backgrounds that Kamala Harris and Joe Biden can speak to with great compassion and understanding.

Kudos to former Vice-President Biden for selecting Kamala Harris as his vice-presidential running mate.

I would imagine that Shirley Chisholm is thrilled at this moment and rightfully so.

And I certainly know that my dear friend, Herb Goodwin, and my angelic wife, Barbara, are giddy now with delight. 

I wish that I could talk to Herb and to Barbara, my own little Bathsheba or Yael, about Senator Harris.

They and many other angels are blessing us now with love and sprinkling us with strength and pixie dust, so that we will prevail in November.

In picking Kamala Harris, Joe Biden has chosen a woman, who looks to be one for the ages and who has already proven that she can handle modern-day Siseras and other foes with aplomb.

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