I must confess that there are times when I become quite emotional. There were tears, for example, when my daughter celebrated her bat mitzva and when her younger brother read the haftara at his bar mitzva few years later. I cried at their college graduations and at their weddings and when their children were born. I shed more than one tear when my in-laws and my parents passed away and when I lost my dear wife, Phyllis, two years ago. But a few tears also rolled down my cheeks when I entered the voting booth at the community center where I cast my ballot on Nov. 8.
In front of me in line were people of all ages and backgrounds: people of color, young couples, and men with canes, most of whom I had never met. Then suddenly I experienced a feeling, a sense of pride, and deep emotion that caused me to cry once again. An elderly gentleman left the voting booth. He wore a faded black baseball cap that read, “World War II Veteran.” At first he had difficulty walking, but when he steadied himself, he stood erect and smiled broadly. He was happy that he had voted.
“I lost buddies who died in the war,” he said. “They fought for this and I ain’t gonna let them down.”
As if on command, the people on line in front and behind me, even the poll workers, stood at attention and saluted as he walked by. The husky African-American gentleman in jeans and sweatshirt standing next to me broke ranks and walked over to him. He embraced the elderly veteran with a bear hug. This, I thought, is what America is all about.
The campaign was dirty, and nasty comments were uttered. Tempers became hot and allegations were made that turned off all of us. Yet, we endured, and on Nov. 8 we made our choice. Some of us voted for what we felt was the lesser of two evils. Some of us cast ballots for purely partisan or philosophical reasons or based on whether one candidate or the other would look more favorably on the State of Israel. The reasons for the choices didn’t matter to me. We may be happy or distressed at the outcome of the White House race and the new makeup of the Congress, but the fact remains that we made up our minds and voted freely and without intimidation.
As President Barack Obama most aptly put it on Nov. 9 in his post-election speech to the nation: “We’re not Democrats first. We’re not Republicans first. We are Americans first. We’re patriots first. We all want what’s best for this country.” As I stood at attention and joined my fellow voters at the community center that morning, as we saluted the elderly gentlemen who refused to let his late buddies down, as a person who carried out my responsibility to vote — yes, I cried.
My tears were those of joy, pride, and appreciation that my parents and grandparents, respectively, had the foresight to become Americans, in a country where we can cry freely because of the precious benefits that we enjoy as Americans. Am I happy with the election results? That’s my secret.
You may be certain, however, that I will continue to cry at simhas and at the loss of loved ones, and yes, I most likely will shed a tear again next November when I cast another ballot.
The tears will roll because of my children and grandchildren and what they will inherit, a land of hope and freedom and opportunity. I will cry because I am grateful to be able to express my feelings and vote freely and shed tears of joy as an emotional American.
Manny Strumpf is copresident of Hadassah Associates of Monroe Township.