Fanfare, dark room.
The president has a tough act to follow: Rousing 50 years of the RAC. Championing civil rights from the March on Washington to the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. (And what have you done lateley, Mr. President?)
Rousing version of America the Beautiful, with a gospel chorus. Not the national anthem; not the Irving Berlin –penned God Bless America. But probably the best written (musically and lyrically) of that trio. Also the most faith-infused (apologies to Berlin); America as a gift and a promise.
Still no Pres.
Lots of "stay tuneds." The Barack Obama-Ehud Barak meeting is running overtime. (Turns out Obama was running late.)
Now the (talented) singer is running through "Gesher Tsar Meod." "All the world is a narrow bridge, but the main thing is not to be afraid at all." Is this what Obama wants to hear going into reelection?
The singer is Josh Nelson.
Waiiitiiing. Lotsa murmurs, standing up (like that’s gonna make Obama come out? This ain’t a seder.)
Nelson fakes a call to his mom, launches Maoz Tsur. He knows his crowd!
Now its Jerry Lee Lewis. (Wrong Jerry Lewis?) Goodness Gracious Great Balls of Fire.
Josh Nelson: "Bashanah Haba’ah." Perfect for this crowd: Patriotic song penned by classic liberal dove (Ehud Manor).
Ok, now Barack-Barak has run 30 minutes. Where are open mics moments when ya need ’em?
Rabbi Eric Yoffie: "Facing some of the most daunting economic and foreign policy challenges of our lifetimes."
Introduces URJ to Obama instead of vice versa — Obama needs no introduction.
"We stand for economic justice, for a woman’s right to choose, for protecting the poort and the needy … the very battles that define us as they define you."
Reform backs universal health care (as you do) — applause.
Gay Rights — applause..
Israel as a "Jewish democratic state" (big applause.)
"An area where you have broken new ground" — defense cooperation with Israel.
Impressed by "unprecedented" number of nations organized to confront Iran.
Likens to Kennedy, who was around at launch of RAC.
"I want to wish all of you Shabbat Shalom."
Obama Recognizes David Saperstein, Yoffie, Michael Oren, Ehud Barak (close defense relationship cited), Alan Solow, Howard Kohr — and NFTY!!
"You helped draft the civl rights act and the voting rights act, you helped liberate Soviet Jews."
"Without these efforts I probably wouldn’t be standing here today.
"You have brought to life your faith and your values.
"My daughter Malia has reached the age where there is always a Bar or Bat Mitzvah. There is quite a bit of negotiations around the skirts she wears at these bars and bat mitzvahs. Do you guys have these issues?
"If there’s one thing I’ve learned from her is that it never hurts to begin a speech by discussing the Torah portion.
"So this week" — much laughter.
Mentions Joseph. "Hineni" — "Here I am."
"The text is telling us that while Joseph does not know what lies ahead, he is ready to answer the call."
Joseph goes to Egypt, in a story that would come to inspire leaders like MLK.
(Inquisition, pogroms, Holocaust)…
"In that history … this place, America, stands out."
"I know how much that story means to you because I know how much it means to me.
"I know what its like to to think only in America is my story possible."
(Tips hat to DWS)
"The Jewish community has always understood that being American is more than just helping yourself."
Parents, grandparents "remembered what its like to be a stranger."
Jews pursued "Tikkun Olam" (pronounced like he’s from Williamsburg! Murmurs. Ehud Barak, you couldn’t have tutored him?)
Hits all the markers: Louis Brandeis, Abraham Joshua Heschel.
"Over the last three years they have brought us together on the most important issues of our time."
–Sotomayor and Kagan to Supremes;
–Repealing Don’t Ask Don’t tell
–Health care reform. "Nobody goes bankrupt because they got sick."
–Making family planning more accessible.
–"Our war in Iraq is ending, our troops are coming home." (all of these lines get applause lines, but this gets a standing ovation)
"This is not just a political debate, ity is a moral debate, a values debate, it is the make or break of our time, it is a debate for the middle class and for those (struggling) to get into the middle class."
When neighbors are in need "We answer the call, we say ‘Here I am.’"
"I won’t be afraid to ask the most well off among us, Americans like me to pay our fair share." (Standing ovation.)
Here comes foreign policy. He mentions:
–The rights of women
–Strategies to eliminate poverty
–The dignity of all people, including gays and lesbians and people with disabilities.
–Commitment to human rights and democrayc
"I have never wavered in pursuit of a just and lasting peace, two states for two peoples, an independent state of Palestine alongside a secure Jewish state of Israel."
Expresses "frustration" with peace process, but there’s no question on how it can be achieved, "ultimately it must be the Israelis and the Palestinians" (allusion to Palestinian refusal to talk.)
"I’m not going to stop in pursuit of that vision, it is the right thing to do.
"That vision begins with a strong and secure state of Israel.
"They are bonds that transcend partisan politics — or at least they should.
U.S. bonds with Israel are because it is "a culture committed to justice, a land they welcomes the wary, a people devoted to tikkun olam." (applause- he gets the pronunciation right this time!)
"My commitment to Israel’s security is unshakeable."
"No nation can tolerate terror .. no nation can yield to suicide bombers.
"No U.S. administration has done more in support of Israel’s security than ours. None. Don’t let anyone else tell you otherwise. It is a fact." (SO)
"We are determined to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons
"We have composed … the hardest hitting sanctions the Iranian regime have ever faced. We haven;t just talked about it.
"We will take no options off the table."
(Will always stand by Israel. Cairo embassy evacuation in September. Haifa fire fighters. Led the way "against international attempts to delegitimize Israel."
"Don’t let anyone else tell a different story. We have been there and we will continue to be there. those are the facts."
"We are not obligated to finish the work, but neither are we free to desist." (Applause for citation of Jewish text.)
"Our world is still in desperate need of repair. Each of us still hears that call.
"At this moment every American of every background has the opprotunity to stand up and say, Here I am, Hineni."