WASHINGTON, Sept. 18 (JTA) — President Clinton is asking religious leaders to encourage Americans to take action on international debt relief, fighting AIDS and providing education to the world’s poorer countries.
Following Sept. 14’s late-morning White House prayer breakfast, at which Clinton made the request, Jewish leaders said they plan to renew their commitment to “tikkun olam,” the concept of repairing the world.
More than 100 leaders of different faiths and faith-based organizations joined Clinton for the breakfast, the eighth such meeting in the White House since 1993.
“If we believe that every person is a child of God, that everyone counts, that everyone should have a certain level of decency in their lives and a certain fair chance to make something, what are our obligations?” Clinton asked the gathering.
Clinton suggested following the pope’s urging to use the year 2000 as a jubilee year to relieve debts from the developing world. He noted the Judeo-Christian concept of using every 50th year to forgive debts and aid the poor.
Donald Abramson, chairman of the American Jewish World Service, and one of several Jewish participants at the breakfast, said he wants religious leaders to make this issue resonate with the community.
Abramson, whose organization provides nonsectarian, humanitarian assistance and emergency relief to people around the world, is asking his board members to have their rabbis get in touch with lawmakers who, in turn, will ask their leadership in the Congress to make debt relief a legislative priority.
The president also wants to increase by $100 million American efforts to help countries fight AIDS. He said additional money would go toward contributions to the Global Alliance for Vaccines that helps poor countries afford needed medicines.
Clinton has also proposed a tax credit to encourage companies to develop vaccines for such diseases as AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis.
The president also asked the religious community to help make basic education available to every child in the world within 15 years. He also said he wants their support for an initiative in which wealthier countries in the world would offer every poor child in the world a nutritious meal in school.
“I do not believe that a nation, any more than a church, a synagogue, a mosque, a particular religious faith, can confine its compassion and concern and commitment only within its borders, especially if you happen to be in the most fortunate country in the world,” Clinton said.
Rabbi Jerome Epstein, executive vice president of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, said he believes it is appropriate to use religious values to mobilize Americans to respond to these critical issues.
Epstein, who attended the breakfast, suggested synagogues create mentoring relationships to challenge people to act and to persuade more people to join social justice projects.
Rabbi Eric Yoffie, president of the Reform movement’s Union of American Hebrew Congregations, said Clinton spoke movingly at the event about the need to reach out to poor countries and how there must be a broader commitment to foreign aid in general.
Yoffie agreed that while the Jewish community is more aware of international issues than other groups, Jews share in the blame for neglecting the most needy countries. He said the Reform movement will now work with its congregational leaders on these issues.