Rabbi Maurice Eisendrath presents President John F. Kennedy with a Torah scroll that had belonged to Rabbi Isaac Mayer Wise.

Introduction of President Obama



You may be wondering why I called you here today.

I will not pretend to introduce President Barack Obama as if you do not know who he is. You do. The world does. And we know that across the panorama of American history, the sea-changes of our national journey are often marked by extraordinary people. This President, facing some of the most daunting economic and foreign policy challenges of our lifetimes, is just such a person.

I am told that the President has arrived and is listening as he prepares to join us. Allow me, Mr. President, to introduce our Movement to you. The Reform Jewish Movement is the largest segment of North American Jewry, with nearly 1.5 million members. And over the last 50 years, we have been the fastest growing, theologically liberal group in American religious life. Ours is a Movement that strives for openness, embraces pluralism, and is committed to being God’s partner in repairing our all-too-broken world.

Rabbi Eric YoffieMr. President, we take this commitment very seriously. Guided by the Religious Action Center here in Washington, whose 50th Anniversary we celebrate today, we have long provided key social action leadership for the American Jewish community. We stand for economic justice, for a woman’s right to choose, for protecting the vulnerable and the needy, for justice in our land and peace across the globe—the very battles that have been at the center of your vision as President.

Those battles define us as they define you. We support health care for all Americans—as you have done so energetically. We have long advocated for gay rights and for ending “Don’t ask don’t tell,” a major achievement of your tenure. We support Israel unequivocally as a Jewish and democratic state, noting, as you have, that a viable peace process and a two-state solution are indispensable to Israel’s long-term security; and noting as well the importance of American support for Israel’s military security, an arena where you have broken new ground through record aid packages and cooperative strategic planning. We are also deeply concerned about the threat of a nuclear Iran, and we are grateful beyond measure for the unprecedented coalition of nations that you have organized to combat that threat.

And this too: Mr. President, at those times when I or David Saperstein or other Reform leaders have been at the White House, you have been a warm and gracious host—someone who truly knows our community, cares deeply about our community, has personal experience with Jewish concerns, and has been a wonderful friend to our Movement. That you have joined us to speak to this historic Biennial is an immense honor for us.

Rabbi Maurice Eisendrath presents President John F. Kennedy with a Torah scroll that had belonged to Rabbi Isaac Mayer Wise.

When the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism was dedicated in 1961, Rabbi Maurice Eisendrath presented President John F. Kennedy with a Torah scroll that had belonged to Rabbi Isaac Mayer Wise.

Fifty years ago, John F. Kennedy, a young, visionary President, took part in the festivities that launched the Religious Action Center. How fitting that 50 years later, this Biennial convention, the largest Jewish conference in North America, is now honored by another such President.

Ladies and gentleman, it is my great honor and distinct privilege to present to you the 44th President of the United States, Barack Obama.

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Rabbi Eric H. Yoffie

About Rabbi Eric H. Yoffie

Rabbi Eric H. Yoffie is president emeritus of the Union for Reform Judaism. He speaks and writes frequently about Israel, religious life, social justice, and other topics of interest to the Jewish community. Read his full bio and writings on the URJ website.

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