The winning essays in the first Fresh Ink For Teens Writing Contest answer the question about which Jewish leader could be commander-in-chief.
The Case for Aaron the Conciliator
By Avi Siegal
Editor’s Note: The articles below are the winner and runner-up in the first Fresh Ink For Teens Writing Contest. (Fresh Ink For Teens is The Jewish Week’s online teen publication.) Nearly 30 contestants from around the country answered the following question: “If you could choose a Jewish leader, past or present, to run the United States, whom would you vote for and why?” The winner, Avi Siegal, received a $180 Amazon gift card.
Jewish history is permeated with individuals who demonstrated tremendous leadership. From Avraham to Ben-Gurion, these leaders have shepherded us through a changing and unforgiving world, ensuring our survival in the face of overwhelming odds. Potentially, many of these leaders would be outstanding choices for president of the United States. If I had the capacity to vote for one of these individuals to become president, my ideal candidate would be Aharon HaKohen.
Although often overshadowed by his brother Moshe, Aharon played a critical role in the journey of the Jewish people. He was a pillar of strength upon whom Moshe relied and a source of support for the entire nation. Aharon possessed characteristics that would serve him well as president.
Famously, Aharon was committed to reconciling his fellow Jews. Ethics of the Fathers (1:12) states that Aharon was a “lover of peace and a pursuer of peace.” When he observed two Jews quarreling, Aharon would do his utmost to restore amicable relations between them.
With Aharon at the helm, the United States government would achieve unprecedented levels of cooperation and productivity. Aharon’s love of peace would translate into his facilitation of bipartisanship in a divided Congress and his willingness to compromise for the good of the nation. Moreover, he would be the consummate diplomat, striving to achieve a lasting peace for the United States and the world. Aharon would usher in a new era of harmony.
In Exodus (4:14), God tells Moshe that when he returns to Egypt from the land of Midian, Aharon will see Moshe and “he will be glad in his heart.” Aharon did not resent being eclipsed by his brother; instead, he selflessly assisted Moshe in the latter’s crucial mission. Clearly, Aharon would embody the value of democracy as “government for the people.” His altruism would lead him to invariably prioritize the public’s problems over his own political gain. Aharon would readily sacrifice his pride in order to settle the disputes between the Republican and Democratic parties. As president, Aharon would genuinely care about the people.
Perhaps Aharon’s most understated trait was his courage. According to the Midrash, as the Jews were experiencing a divine plague (Numbers 17:12), Aharon confronted the Angel of Death and compelled his opponent to cease the epidemic. In addition, after learning of the deaths of his sons Nadav and Avihu, Aharon displayed his profound inner strength by simply remaining silent (Leviticus 10:3). The steel of Aharon’s personality would enable him to be an exemplary commander-in-chief and a rock of inspiration for the nation during trying circumstances.
The United States is in the midst of a turbulent phase in its history. The economy teeters, extremism is on the rise and the future is bleak, particularly for students such as myself. Meanwhile, the government appears woefully incompetent for the task of rebuilding the United States’ glory and confidence. In these troubling times, we need a president who will emulate the qualities of Aharon HaKohen.
Avi Siegal is a freshman at SAR High School in New York.
The Case for Esther, Advocate for Minorities
By Talia Weisberg
An orphan raised by her uncle, she was suddenly chosen to become her nation’s leader. Although she did not want this position, she took advantage of her power and stood up for a minority group facing discrimination. An observant Jew, she managed to keep her religion out of politics and vice versa. This woman Queen Esther, the biblical woman whose miraculous rescue of Persian Jewry we celebrate every year during Purim. If I could choose a Jewish leader to be president of the United States, I would vote for Esther because of her dedication to protecting every individual’s rights and her ability to balance private life as a Jew and political life as a secular leader.
Most minority groups living in the United States are disadvantaged in some way; for example, an African-American man and woman earn, respectively, only 71 and 70 cents for every dollar a white man earns. It is imperative that the president stand up for the rights of minority groups and ensure that every American can dedicate his or her talents to better society.
Esther’s track record in this issue is excellent: she stood up for the Jewish people, who were the oppressed minority of Persia, and demanded that King Ahasuerus protect them from Haman’s evil plot (Esther 7:3-6). Esther did this at great risk to her own life, as she approached the king without being summoned, a capital offense. She did not care that Ahasuerus was unlikely to grant her request; she was determined to do everything in her power to help the oppressed Jews. I would definitely vote for someone so dedicated to helping every victim of discrimination.
A president must also be able to separate his or her private and public lives. Although the personal may be the political, a president whose home life interferes with his/her leadership is a liability to the American people. One such example is Bill Clinton, whose widely-publicized affair with White House employee Monica Lewinsky still haunts America’s image. Esther did not suffer from Clinton’s inability to separate the private from public. She possessed two complementary identities: the religious Jew and the secular leader. Neither was compromised by the other. Both existed and thrived independently. A devout Jew, she kept halacha stringently when she lived in the palace; a savvy politician, she wrote the law that reversed Haman’s decree to kill the Jews. Esther’s expertise at balancing her dual identity as a lay leader and observant Jew, her capability of keeping the personal and political separate, would certainly garner my vote.
The name Esther means hidden. The biblical queen’s actions truly lived up to her name. She saved the Jews, an underrepresented — almost hidden — minority group from destruction and discrimination. She also managed to keep her private life as a Jew hidden from the face of the public. I will vote for the first time in the next presidential election, and I wish that Queen Esther’s name could be on the ballot. She would definitely get my vote.
Talia Weisberg is a senior at Manhattan High School for Girls.
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