Mayor Michael Bloomberg: Rodef Tzedek, Pursuer of Justice

[Editor’s Note: Rabbi Jacobs gave the following remarks on May 31st when he introduced New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg to the URJ’s North American Board at its biannual meeting last weekend.]

Mr. Mayor, I have no illusions that my eloquent letter of invitation is what brought you here this morning. First, it helps to know someone at City Hall. My wife and I are blessed to know and love your First Deputy Mayor Patti Harris, who graces us here today and has contributed so much to your administration, this city, and our family.

But I suspect that a significant reason the mayor is here this morning is because of his long and close collaboration with my wife, Susan Freedman, to bring exhilarating public art to NYC, like the “NYC Waterfalls” and this year’s “Discovering Columbus.” Mayor Bloomberg has been an extraordinary supporter of the arts, especially the public kind that all New Yorkers and visitors can experience.

Susan has followed in the giant footsteps of her mother, the late Doris C. Freedman, who was New York City’s first Commissioner of Cultural Affairs and the founder of the Public Art Fund, which Susan now leads.

I remember a few years back, we were invited to the mayor’s home for dinner. As we sat down for the meal, he asked, “Rabbi would you say a brief blessing over the meal?” The mayor then whipped out his watch to keep time.

Just like his politics: Do it right, but let’s get right to it.

While we cherish the personal connection, it is for his extraordinary career of public service that we have invited him here today. In every generation, there are a handful of political leaders who reshape the way politics are done and can be done.

Michael Bloomberg may be known worldwide for his contributions to the realm of business in his professional life before politics – but as a political leader, he has been committed, above all, to the proposition that the people deserve something better than “business as usual.”

Some politicians wake up in the morning and put their finger in the air to test which way the wind is blowing before they decide what they think – but not Mike Bloomberg. He conforms his views neither to conventional wisdom nor to political polls. Rather, as it says in our tradition “Where there is no vision, the people perish.” The mayor’s moral vision and political courage have reshaped life in New York City and modeled a different way for cities across the nation. Think of just a few of his accomplishments – many widely acclaimed, some quite controversial, some both:

The list goes on and on.

In moments of crisis, he has responded with leadership and courage. Take just two examples of political courage in which the Reform Movement, nationally, was honored to stand by his side.

When the controversy erupted over the Islamic center and mosque in the Ground Zero area, he arose to affirm abiding support of the right of all people to freely worship. “Of all our precious freedoms,” he argued, “the most important may be the freedom to worship as we wish.” We were proud to join with Mayor Bloomberg in his call for religious tolerance during that time of tension and potential crisis – a call that reflects the highest values upon which this nation was founded.

And long before the tragedy at Newtown, he had mobilized his formidable prestige and influence to galvanize the nation’s mayors to confront the epidemic of gun violence in our nation. And as one of the co-founders of Mayors Against Illegal Guns, the national, bipartisan coalition of more than 950 mayors from communities in 45 states, Mayor Bloomberg emerged as America’s most prominent leader in the urgent campaign to bring sanity to our nation’s gun laws.

Mr. Mayor, I’m proud that in the aftermath of Newtown, our Reform Jewish Movement, spearheaded by our Religious Action Center, stepped up to play a key leadership role in coordinating the response of our nation’s faith communities.

Within a week, we convened 25 national denominational leaders from the Catholics to the Sikhs to Orthodox Jews to stand united in front of the National Cathedral, issuing a call to action that attracted significant media and political attention. Drawing on the guidance and support of your “Mayors Against Illegal Guns,” we organized the national “Faiths Calling” campaign, involving almost every Jewish and Protestant denomination, the Catholic Bishops, the Southern Baptist Convention, and leading mega-church pastors.

As a result, the day of the introduction of the Senate bill and the day before the vote, we flooded Senate offices with more than 20,000 calls in support of legislation to end the senseless scourge of gun violence. From California to Connecticut, our rabbis and lay leaders, Jews have lifted their voices in sermons, op-eds, letters to the editor, and face-to-face meetings with senators and congresspersons, state and city legislators, demanding action.

In 2000, at the Million Mom March, my predecessor Rabbi Eric Yoffie, speaking on behalf of the entire religious community, observed:

Controlling guns is not only a political matter; it is a solemn religious obligation. Our gun-flooded society has turned weapons into idols, and the worship of idols must be recognized for what it is-blasphemy. And the only appropriate religious response to blasphemy is sustained moral outrage

Mr. Mayor, for your moral outrage against senseless violence and injustice, for your vision and for your inspiring leadership in making our city and our nation better , for being a true rodef tzedek, a pursuer of justice, we are honored to have you address us today. My friends, it is my honor and my pleasure to present to you, the Mayor of New York City, Michael R. Bloomberg.

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Rabbi Rick Jacobs

About Rabbi Rick Jacobs

Rabbi Rick Jacobs is the president of the URJ. See his full bio and other writings on the URJ website.

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