First Jew sworn in as US ambassador for religious freedom

Saperstein was ushered into the Obama administration at a small ceremony at the State Department.

February 21, 2015 19:24
1 minute read.
Rabbi David Saperstein.

Rabbi David Saperstein.. (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)


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WASHINGTON – David Saperstein has been sworn in as US ambassador-at-large for religious freedom, the first Jew to hold the post.

Saperstein was ushered into the Obama administration at a ceremony attended by roughly 300 people at the State Department where US Secretary of State John Kerry praised him as President Barack Obama’s “chief adviser on religious liberty.”

“Either David Saperstein was created with the job of ambassador- at-large for international religious freedom in mind, or the job was created with him in mind,” Kerry said.

Saperstein, the fourth person to hold the ambassador post, was a member of Obama’s Advisory Council on Faith- Based and Neighborhood Partnerships from 2010 to 2011. He also was a member of the US Commission on International Religious Freedom from 1999 to 2001.

For 40 years, Saperstein served as director of the Religious Action Center for Reform Judaism. He also sat on the boards of the NAACP and the National Religious Partnership on the Environment.

“During my career, my mandate has indeed covered a wide range of issues, but there are few that have been as central to my heart as that of religious freedom for, like most Jews, I know all too well that over the centuries the Jewish people have been a quintessential victim of religious persecution, ethnic cleansing, and demonization,” Saperstein said.

“Through too many tragedies,” he continued, “we have learned firsthand the cost to universal rights, security and well- being of religious communities when good people remain silent in the face of persecution.”

Accepting the position “humbled” and prepared, Saperstein provided a litany of challenges he would face in the months ahead – from the protection of Baha’is in Iran and Buddhists in China to the imminently threatened Yazidis and Christians of Iraq.

“Even in Western Europe,” Saperstein went on, “we are witnessing a steady increase in anti-Muslim acts and rhetoric and anti-Semitic discourse and acts of desecration and violence against Jewish individuals, synagogues and institutions and communities that we thought we would never, never see again after World War II.”

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