Saturday, March 18, 2017

Eric Greitens, Missouri’s First Jewish Governor, Is Eyeing The White House 

On the weekend before his January 9 swearing in ceremony, Eric Greitens, soon to become governor of Missouri, called up United Hebrew Congregation, a Reform synagogue in St. Louis. He asked to attend Shabbat service, and was honored with a special role in the ceremony, and a blessing from the clergy.

It’s hardly unusual for any Jewish community to show such respect to one of their own who has reached high office, but Greitens himself is unusual: He’s a Republican from a community known for its stalwart support for Democrats since President Theodore Roosevelt occupied the White House.

He would have known that very few of the congregants voted for him or for Donald Trump in the November election. Even the bat-mitzvah girl’s speech, according to Rabbi Brigitte Rosenberg, had a liberal tone. “But regardless of his politics, this was a very special moment of pride to have the first Jewish governor,” Rosenberg said. One member of the community approached Greitens during the typical celebratory light meal after services and told him he never believed he’d live to see a Jewish governor in the state.

And if pundits and Republican strategists are right, Greitens may provide his home state’s Jewish community with even more reasons for pride. He’s on every Republican future leadership watch list and has never been shy about his ultimate goal.

“When we did the ‘What I Want to Be When I Grow Up’ unit, Eric’s answer was ‘President,’” his kindergarten teacher Anne Richardson told St. Louis Magazine. Years later, he’d repeat this aspiration to a college professor.

He’s got the right resume. He’s been a Rhodes scholar, a decorated warrior and a civic leader. Greitens — who’d never run for office before his bid for the governor’s job and boasts about his outsider status — has shown great political nimbleness as he works toward his childhood goal. He spent his time earning accolades outside politics and so carries no baggage from statehouse or city council. And when he decided to pull the trigger and run, he combined in his public profile the right amounts of conservatism, gun-loving patriotism and fiscal responsibility, alienating neither moderates nor extremists.

Indeed, the finesse with which Greitens handles his Jewishness is a prime example of his political skill. It could have been a liability. After all, Jewish faith functioned as a public embarrassment in Missouri as recently as 2015. Tom Schweich, a rival Republican candidate for governor, [committed suicide] http://forward.com/news/215584/missouri-republican-tom-schweich-commits-suicide-a/) in February of that year shortly after claiming one of his rivals has planned a “whisper campaign” about his Jewish heritage. Scweich, who was Christian, had a Jewish grandfather.

Yet Greitens, fully and openly Jewish, won the Republican primary with 35% of the vote, and then beat the Democratic candidate 51% to 45%. And when, early in his governorship, vandals attacked over 200 gravestones at the Chesed Shel Emeth cemetery in St. Louis, he skillfully acknowledged his background by emphasizing its more universal values.


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