Friday, August 31, 2012

Clint Eastwood and Obama's Empty Chair

POLITICS IS A SERIOUS BUSINESS, or at least it should be - significant things that deeply impact the lives of citizens of this country are shaped by what happens in politics. But it was hard for me, like thousands of others, not to be entertained by what happened last night at the Republican National Convention when Clint Eastwood showed up to speak.

I'm not sure which was more amusing - watching him have an imaginary conversation with President Obama while speaking to an empty chair, or the fact that, within minutes, someone had created a Twitter handle @InvisibleObama. An hour later, @InvisibleObama had over 20,000 followers. As of this afternoon, it was almost 50,000! And it wasn't just a clever idea. Whoever is behind the tweets is one funny tweeter.

Here are just a few examples:
Invisible Obama ‏@InvisibleObama
When Mitt Romney says "Mr. Chairman", do you think he's referring to me?
Invisible Obama ‏@InvisibleObama
I'm behind Mitt! No seriously. I'm right behind him.

And, my favorite one from today: Invisible Obama ‏@InvisibleObama
Just thought I'd share a picture of my Cabinet.

In the midst of the amusing tweets I saw rolling down my screen last night, Rabbi Andrea Myers tweeted:
Rabbi Andrea Myers ‏@RabbiAndrea I will never look at a Chair of Elijah the same way again. #oyandvey #RNC #ClintEastwood

Elijah's Chair was the original empty chair. It shows up at a Bris (circumcision) in particular, but there are other community occasions when the idea of an empty chair - an extra seat that indicates openness to receiving an unexpected visitor or guest - is commonly referred to as 'Elijah's chair'. On Passover, we also have the tradition of 'Elijah's Cup'. The story behind this tradition is that there were certain questions that the Sages of the Talmud were unsure how to answer, specifically with regard to how they designed the Passover Seder ritual, but on other occasions as well. Elijah, who is held in Jewish tradition to return to announce the arrival of the Messiah, would be able to resolve our unanswered questions when he did so.

But, enjoying the playfulness of Rabbi Myer's tweet, I had a thought. This coming year, when Passover comes around - a festival when we discuss what freedom truly means - what would happen if we included an empty chair and had a conversation with @InvisibleElijah ? What would the conversation look like if we had that conversation as it pertained to freedoms in our own land with @InvisibleObama? Of course, by then we will know who the next President of the United States will be and we may be addressing a different President.

By the way, apparently there's a bit more to this connection between Eastwood's empty chair, @InvisibleObama, and Elijah. It pertains to major fundraising events where Obama may appear and may stop by at the tables of specific donors:

At some past events, the president’s team would arrange for an empty chair to be at each table—“the Elijah chair,” as some donors call it—so that Obama would have a place to sit. (reported in Tablet Magazine).

Rabbi Rachel Gurevitz is a Reform rabbi in Westborough, Massachusetts. Follow her on Twitter at @RabbiGurevitz.