Before Shabbat I participated in President Donald Trump’s conference call with Jewish leaders for the new year. The invitation said the president would “send well wishes for the upcoming holidays” and then move on to “discuss his administration’s progress on issues of interest to the Jewish community.”
There to introduce the president was his son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner. He told the participants that no president had been more supportive of Israel and that Trump has been and would always be a true friend of the Jewish People.
Even more moving was Jared’s assertion that “anyone that knows the president understands that he takes great pride in having a Jewish daughter and Jewish grandchildren.” Jared was, of course, referring to his own family, which made his remarks particularly poignant. I can’t recall Jared having spoken this way in an official capacity before and his words were memorable.
A child represents the deepest of human relationships. A president with a Jewish child has no precedent in our nation’s history. Being told of the president’s immense pride in his Jewish daughter and grandchildren as part of an official white house briefing likewise has no precedent. It was as if their Jewish identity figured not only in life but in actual policy.
Jared then said it was his honor to introduce the forty- fifth president of the United States, Donald Trump. The president took to the phone and wished in Hebrew to all those on the call: “Shana tova.” He went on to point out how the Jewish tradition of “making time and taking time each year to rededicate your lives to the sacred values” of Judaism, “strengthens our nation and inspires us all.”
He expressed his “deep admiration” for the Jewish People, who had “endured unthinkable persecution.” Having just completed a Holocaust educational journey with members of my family, a journey that included attendance at the president’s speech in Warsaw, I deeply appreciated the president’s words about the travails of our people. He then recognized and honored the presence of Holocaust survivors who were on the call, telling them of the “lasting inspiration” we all draw from their perseverance despite having “witnessed evil beyond human comprehension.” He thanked them for telling their stories which “help us to confront evil in our world.”
President Trump then expressed his firm commitment to Israel, pointing out that his connection ran far deeper than our vital security interests, and was rooted in our shared values.
Trump then turned to his attention “our cherished friend and ally, the State of Israel.” Israel, to him, represented “resilience in the face of oppression” and “democracy in the face of violence.”
He referenced his unprecedented support of Israel at the UN and particularly his administration’s successful campaign to have the international body rescind its latest biased report against Israel, an action he harshly termed “horrible.” He would instead direct international attention toward the “real threats to our security, such as Iran, Hezbollah and ISIS [Islamic State].”
On a personal level, too, he assured us: “I love Israel.”
It was a deeply encouraging call, filled with statements of unambiguous and unconditional connection to Israel and the Jewish People.
This presidential pre-Rosh Hashana call has been made before, and indeed has become something of a White House tradition since the Obama era. This year, the media reported, some Jewish leaders decided to boycott the president’s Rosh Hashana greeting.
In a statement to The New York Times, Graham Roth, a spokesman for the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, declared that “Reform rabbis, along with Reconstructionist and Conservative rabbis, decided to forgo hosting the annual High Holiday call with the president this year.” The decision, he pointed out, had not been made “lightly,” but was “necessary” following the president’s lack of moral leadership in the wake of Charlottesville....”
Here, I must disagree.
The president’s response to the events in Charlottesville was, in my opinion, inadequate, even at some level dubious. Even if there were extremist elements on “both sides,” only one of those sides was promoting an ideology that led to the murder of six million Jews. The two ends of this stick simply cannot be brought together for comparison.
Still, the president’s misstep, which I publicly criticized, does not change what has been an incredibly strong record of support for the Jewish People and Israel.
From his time as a candidate, Trump has championed the Jewish state. No president fought for Israel at the UN in quite the way Trump has, with his phenomenal UN representative Nicky Haley. Trump was also the first president to visit the Western Wall, which had shockingly never happened before, not even during the eras of Clinton or Bush. Trump has also put an unprecedented level of pressure on US allies like Qatar to cease their financing of Hamas terrorism.
With regard to the other major terrorism financiers, Mahmoud Abbas and his Palestinian Authority, Trump has finally turned up the heat. He reportedly screamed at Abbas for having tricked him with regard to the PA ’s terrorist pensions, and last week voiced broad support for the Taylor Force Act, which would finally bring an end to these abominable payoffs.
These are just a few examples but they’re critical insofar as they represent a level of commitment to Israel that should earn widespread Jewish appreciation. Trump’s record isn’t perfect but he certainly doesn’t deserve a Jewish boycott of his High Holiday call.
The most ironic part of all this is that it comes just before the Rosh Hashana and the Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur. On these days, we as a people reflect on our own records, knowing that God will do the same. We ask repeatedly throughout the long prayer service that God acknowledge not only our misdeeds but our acts of goodness and kindness. We ask that he understand our struggles and lend us an open ear.
This year, we’ll repeat that message again. But it’s not enough to say it. We have to internalize it and judge others the way we ourselves hope to be judged.
President Trump deserves recognition and gratitude for his stalwart support for the Jewish state at a time when its enemies continue to call for its destruction. Those who disagree, which is their right, should, at the very least, give him a chance to be heard.
The author, “America’s rabbi,” whom The Washington Post calls “the most famous rabbi in America,” is founder of The World Values Network and is the international best-selling author of 31 books. Follow him on Twitter @ RabbiShmuley.