Kvetching about what your kids wear to a bar or bat mitzvah is something you
expect to hear from the other moms and dads at Hebrew School – but probably not
from a president of the United States. But there was President Obama this
month, a dad of two young daughters, empathizing with Jewish parents everywhere,
at the Union for Reform Judaism’s Biennial Convention.
how genuinely and naturally our president relates to the Jewish community. He
mentions by name responsibilities like tikkun olam
, the Jewish tradition of
working to repair the world, and then talks from the heart about his belief in
the same. He discusses the concept of “hineini
” – “Here I am” – not only because
he thinks giving an unexpected d’var Torah
makes for a good speech, but because
he subscribes to the values those prophetic words represent.
words, spoken individually in the Torah by Abraham and Moses, and as we read in
synagogue the week of the president’s speech, also by Joseph, express our
collective obligation to leave the world a better place and to stand up for all
that lies ahead. The president reminded us that everyone who wants the best for
their children and their neighbors’ children share this obligation to repair the
world. Tikkun Olam is simply a commitment Americans
President Obama also proves that these values cannot be contained
to the words alone – whether they are spoken in Hebrew, English or in any other
tongue. He knows they must go beyond words; that they must inspire deeds. For
this president, they do.
Don’t believe me? Look at what he’s done this
year, when the president showed more than ever that he stands with Israel. As
always, he didn’t make empty promises or use pandering rhetoric; he backed up
his words with action.
As fire scorched Israel’s Carmel mountain range
last winter and threatened Haifa, Obama didn’t think twice before sending all
but four of America’s firefighting planes to help Israel quench the
flames. When families in Sderot lived in bomb shelters, the president
made sure Israel got unprecedented security funding to build the Iron Dome
system that now intercepts rockets from Gaza. Unlike those jockeying to oppose
him in November, President Obama will never, ever suggest zeroing- out the
foreign aid budget.
On the contrary, Israel will receive more US aid this
year than ever before.
And when the world turned away from Israel this
September, President Obama stood before the United Nations and strongly declared
“hineini.” In so many words, he told the world: I am here, the United States is
here, and I stand with Israel. Then President Obama backed up those words
with what Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called a “badge of honor,”
blocking Palestinian efforts to circumvent direct negotiation with Israel and
pursue statehood unilaterally.
That’s nothing new coming from a president
whose first UN Security Council veto blocked a resolution condemning Israel and
supporting her right of self-defense. What’s more, his leadership toward
resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has Israel’s core interests at heart
– peaceful and secure coexistence, rather than war, terror and
President Obama has pursued tikkun olam in countless
ways. He’s fighting to restore fairness for families, making sure we all
play by the same rules, that hard work pays off and that responsibility is
rewarded. He’s taking unprecedented steps toward equality for women, gays and
lesbians, and for long-marginalized groups. And he’s isolating Iran and taking
terrorists off the field – including more than half of al-Qaida’s top
leadership. General Motors is alive and Osama bin Laden isn’t.
goes on. Doubling fuelefficiency standards, as the president did, not only saves
us money at the pump, but it also to makes sure we live in a world with cleaner
air to breathe, and in a country less dependent on oil from foreign countries
who aren’t friends of America and certainly not of Israel.
A little while
ago, many young Americans couldn’t get health insurance. Maybe their job
didn’t provide it or they couldn’t afford it. Insurance companies often dropped
young adults after they turned 18 or graduated from college. President Obama
reformed health care, letting young Americans stay on their parents’ plans until
they turn 26. In just one year’s time, more than 2.5 million young Americans no
longer have to worry about being bankrupted by medical bills. That’s some
serious change for our next generation. That’s tikkun olam in deeds, not just
In supporting Israel and making sure our children inherit a better
world, President Obama clearly doesn’t just talk about values like fixing the
world or standing up for what’s right. He believes in them and he lives them. I
know he always will.
The writer is senior rabbi of Congregation Etz Chaim
in Lombard (Chicago), Illinois and a co-founder of Rabbis for Obama.