President Isaac Herzog’s address to Congress was an emotionally overwhelming experience, beautifully and elegantly encapsulated in the three special guests he invited.
“In 1949, the president of the United States of America, Harry S. Truman, met with the chief rabbi of the newly established State of Israel, my grandfather Rabbi Yitzhak Isaac Halevi Herzog, in the Oval Office. This was just a few years after each of them had pleaded and campaigned for the rescue of Europe’s Jews being slaughtered in the Holocaust by the Nazis. In speaking to President Truman, Rabbi Herzog thanked him for being the first world leader to officially recognize the State of Israel, 11 minutes after its foundation.
He spoke of the Divine providence that destined president Truman to help bring about the rebirth of Israel, after 2,000 years of exile. Witnesses of the encounter recalled tears running down president Truman’s cheeks. We are honored to have president Truman’s grandson Clifton Truman Daniel with us here today.”
Tears were streaming down the cheeks of all of us, as we experienced that uniquely blessed moment in the chamber of the world’s leading superpower that is home to the largest Jewish community outside Israel. We were inspired to watch virtually all its elected federal representatives thunderously applaud and vigorously affirm America’s critical and sustained role in supporting the gift of our time, the return of our people to our national homeland, land of our prayers and dreams, “the land which the Almighty promised to Abraham, to which Moses led the Israelites, the land of the Bible, of milk and honey.”
“The revered American Jewish spiritual leader Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel embodied the bridge between our peoples and the story of American Jewry. After escaping from the Holocaust, Rabbi Heschel publicly advocated interfaith dialogue. He fought for civil liberties in America and marched alongside Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in the historic march from Selma to Montgomery, in March of 1965. Rabbi Heschel wrote: ‘To be is to stand for.’ I am so pleased to have his daughter, Prof. Susannah Heschel of Dartmouth, joining us here today.”
Concerns on current Israel affairs
If there was a shadow in the room, it was cast by ongoing concerns about worrying trends in the progressive wing of the Democratic Party hostile to Israel, and by the group that chose to absent themselves from President Herzog’s speech, those who a day earlier could not bring themselves to vote with 412 of their colleagues to affirm that Israel “is not a racist or apartheid state; Congress rejects all forms of antisemitism and xenophobia; and the United States will always be a staunch partner and supporter of Israel.”
President Herzog reminded both us and them of the central and historic role of American Jews in the struggle for freedom from discrimination in this blessed country. We are the people of the book that taught the world about the Divine image in every person, loving the stranger, the Golden Rule, and proclaiming liberty throughout the land. “Israel has democracy in its DNA.”
“Two Israeli officers, Oron Shaul and Hadar Goldin, and two civilians, Hisham al-Sayed, and Avera Mengistu, are being held hostage by Hamas for years, for the sole purpose of torturing the families they left behind. Lt. Hadar Goldin was abducted in violation of a UN-sponsored humanitarian ceasefire, negotiated by the United States. His family has been fighting for nine years to bring him home. I asked Hadar Goldin’s mother, Leah, to be here with us today. We pray for her son’s return, as well as the three other Israelis.”
As so many vital issues face us, as so many existential topics vie for attention, the president of Israel brought with him on this historic journey a mother made of tears and of steel. This was the ultimate statement of Jewish values. We are family. We never turn our back on family. We will go to the ends of the earth to bring our family back together. He reminded us – Jews of Left, Right, and Center, Orthodox, Conservative, and Reform, Knesset members, soldiers, and journalists, legislators and protesters: We are family. We will always be family. We will never give up on each other.
Thank you, President Herzog, for representing us, for inspiring us, and for reminding us.
We heard you. Now, we must live up to it.
The writer, a rabbi, is the executive vice president of the Orthodox Union.