Spearheading massive federal assistance to rebuild areas hit by Hurricane Katrina, President Bush wants the faith-based community to play a role as well. His first stop: U.S. Jews.
Addressing the culminating event Sept. 14 of Celebrate 350, the coalition commemorating 350 years of Jewish life in America, Bush outlined the critical role Jews play in galvanizing faith-based giving in the United States.
“Jewish Americans have made countless contributions to our land,” Bush said to an appreciative audience that packed the cavernous National Building Museum. “The prophet Jeremiah once called out to his nation, ‘Seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf.’ “
While paying heed — to applause — to the principle of church-state separation, Bush said there’s a place for faith-based giving as well.
“Men and women throughout our history have acted on the words of Scripture, and they have made America a better, more hopeful place,” he said. “At this moment, volunteers from all walks of life across our great land are helping the good folks of Alabama and Mississippi and Louisiana recover from one of the worst natural disasters in our nation’s history. The outpouring of compassion is phenomenal. American Jewish organizations have already raised over $10 million, plus the $50,000 tonight, for the victims of Hurricane Katrina.”
Bush’s speech at the Jewish event appeared to be a dress rehearsal for his speech to the nation the following night, in which he peppered his announcement of federal aid for the afflicted region with appeals for faith-based giving.
“It is the armies of compassion — charities and houses of worship and idealistic men and women — that give our reconstruction effort its humanity,” Bush said in a Sept. 15 speech from New Orleans.
Launching his appeal for faith-based giving with a speech to Jewish groups was unusual: Many Jewish groups object to the specifics of Bush’s faith-based programming, concerned that there are few proscriptions that would prevent federal money from going to groups that discriminate by religion in hiring and that proselytize.
Still, the Jewish community agrees broadly with the president about the role of faith groups in helping those in need. That, coupled with the unusually close relationship Bush enjoys with the U.S. Jewish leadership, guaranteed him a warm reception.
The speech came after a tour of the historic Sixth and I synagogue in downtown Washington and an examination of a Torah scroll there that survived the Holocaust.
The speech itself was laced with nuanced references to American Jewish history. Bush noted Asher Levy’s insistence in the 17th century on joining the New Amsterdam Citizens Guard — despite its proscription against Jews — calling Levy “the first of many Jewish Americans who have proudly worn the uniform of the United States.”
The popular misconception that Jews are under-represented in the armed forces has long frustrated Jewish veterans’ groups.
Bush also announced plans to award the Medal of Honor, the nation’s highest civilian honor, to Cpl. Tibor Rubin, a Holocaust survivor who enlisted in the U.S. Army and fought in the Korean War.
Rubin’s smuggling of food and medical supplies in a POW camp during the Korean War is credited with saving more than 40 lives. He is to receive the medal in a White House ceremony this Friday.
Bush, who met earlier in the day with Ariel Sharon at the United Nations, called the Israeli prime minister “a man of courage, a man of peace” for the recent pullout from the Gaza Strip. The president also condemned the destruction of Gaza synagogues by Palestinians following the withdrawal.
The Celebrate 350 chairman, Robert Rifkind, gave Bush the coalition’s commemorative medal.
This Wednesday, Bush was to address a luncheon marking the 20th anniversary of the Republican Jewish Coalition, rounding out an unusual week with two Jewish speeches. The sold-out event, drawing about 500 people, was to be simulcast to RJC chapters across the United States and in Israel.
The Archive of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency includes articles published from 1923 to 2008. Archive stories reflect the journalistic standards and practices of the time they were published.