John Safran Sets us Straight on Australia's Super Sabbath Election Clash

By Royce Akers

It’s cool Australia. Last week’s scheduling of the 2013 federal election is absolutely not a Labor-led anti-Semitic conspiracy. Yes, it falls on Yom Kippur, one of holiest days in the Jewish calendar, but it doesn't mean anything. We admit to indulging in a brief bit of postannouncement theorizing, and we weren’t the only ones. But then we called the most famous Jew we know, John Safran, and he put us straight once and for all.

VICE: First up, what's Yom Kippur?
John Safran: [Laughs] Uh oh. Well for what I understand it to be, it’s the day of atonement where God is going to decide if you’re written into the Book of Life for the next year. So God’s got his hand there, deciding, and this is your last chance to go to synagogue and really pray that he’s going to put you in the book. Or else you’ll be snuffed out.

That’s a big day.
You’re also meant to go around asking people for forgiveness. And you fast for 25 hours because you’re meant to be fully concentrated on you know, crying before God in synagogue to please let you be written in.

So what does plonking a federal election on that day mean if you’re Jewish?
Well the election’s always on a Saturday anyway, and if you’re a religious Jew, you’re not allowed to write on paper with a pen on that day. So if you’re fully religious, this actually makes no difference because you’d already be doing that thing where you vote early by post. So for anyone who’s actually not a phony and not a hypocrite, it’s not a problem because they just do what they’ve always done over the years. Then you have these halfway Jews, not quite religious enough to keep the Sabbath every Saturday, but they want to keep the Yom Kippur or whatever. But it’s always good to pop out of synagogue. You can’t be there all day.

Who’s upset about it?
It's not religious Jews or Jewish organisations because it's the same as always for them. One person who’s pretending to be upset by it, or is upset by it, is this Melbourne politician for the Labor Party named Michael Danby. He wants to go to synagogue. One way to look at it is that he's sincere and just wants to go. Then if you're cynical, you say he’s in an electorate with a lot of Jewish people and he’d really like to be out there campaigning and getting as many votes as he can, but he can’t because people are going to look at him and say “why aren’t you in synagogue?” So he’s been delivered this really difficult chess problem where he has to weigh up if he’ll get more votes by campaigning or lose votes for not being religious enough.

He’s a Labor guy, and a Labor government called the election. Do you think Yom Kippur was taken into consideration when they came up with the date?
Well straight after it was announced and all the papers called up the Jewish organisations, they all said it wasn’t a problem. So if they called them beforehand, they would have been told the same thing. I reckon it’s pretty face value. She had to do it on some date, and it was either this or the AFL Final.

That’s a good point. Do you think Australian Jews are predominantly Liberal or Labor voters?
I don’t know. It’s all confusing because you have more conservative Labor politicians in some cases than Liberal ones. For example, Michael Danby is popular with the Jews, and he’s in a Jewish electorate. He’s Labor but a lot of people would consider him to be on the conservative side. I think there’s still a lot of holdouts from the olden days where their great-grandfather was a Labor voter so they are too. Or people who are like “I’m a business owner so I’m voting Liberal.” I don’t really get the impression it’s one way or the other.

OK. So to summarize: This is not a conspiracy against Jews, if it was it wouldn’t work anyway, and the only person it’s really a big deal for is Michael Danby.
Yes. As well as Bram Presser from Yidcore, who says it’s annoying or whatever. But I reckon most people want to pop out during the day anyway. I mean, do you really want to spend go to whoa in a synagogue? It’s a good excuse for a walk.


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