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The Power of a Presidential Meeting

June 14, 2012 By:
Rabbi Andrea L. Merow
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Did you know that there is a special blessing one says when one sees a ruler or head of state? "Blessed are You, Lord our G-d, Ruler of the World, who gives of G-ds own glory to flesh and blood."
<p>Last month at a meeting at the White House with Conservative rabbis, government officials and President Barack Obama, I was overcome by a sense of how wonderful it is to be an American and to participate fully in our democracy. The recitation of this blessing and the generous spirit of how the blessing was accepted by the president were overwhelming and truly awe-inspiring.
<p>I understand that some might see this meeting as an election- year tactic. Allow me to remind you of two things: First, our officials, and those who want to be our officials, should be meeting with constituents. Second, these meetings have happened through this, and other, administrations. As Rabbi Jack Moline, the Rabbinical Assembly's director of public policy, said: "The opportunity to speak with candor and depth to the president was a privilege, especially at a time when we are usually limited to sound bites and media selectivity."
<p>And that is what this meeting was about: continuing an ongoing conversation between religious leaders and our national leadership.
<p>As Did you know that there is a special blessing one says when one sees a ruler or head of state? "Blessed are You, Lord our G-d, Ruler of the World, who gives of G-ds own glory to flesh and blood."

Last month at a meeting at the White House with Conservative rabbis, government officials and President Barack Obama, I was overcome by a sense of how wonderful it is to be an American and to participate fully in our democracy. The recitation of this blessing and the generous spirit of how the blessing was accepted by the president were overwhelming and truly awe-inspiring.

I understand that some might see this meeting as an election- year tactic. Allow me to remind you of two things: First, our officials, and those who want to be our officials, should be meeting with constituents. Second, these meetings have happened through this, and other, administrations. As Rabbi Jack Moline, the Rabbinical Assembly's director of public policy, said: "The opportunity to speak with candor and depth to the president was a privilege, especially at a time when we are usually limited to sound bites and media selectivity."

And that is what this meeting was about: continuing an ongoing conversation between religious leaders and our national leadership.

As proud American Jews, it is our responsibility to have ongoing dialogue with officials in every administration. My teacher, Rabbi David Saperstein of the Reform Movement's Religious Action Center, instructs that it is of vital importance for American Jews to have strong ties with leaders in both parties. This civic responsibility to engage with our leaders allows us to help shape the debate about how we as a society can live our core values of tikkun olam, repair of the world, support for Israel, care for others and more.

Many times, especially in a difficult economy, governing is about having to balance priorities and even choose between competing values and projects. Two thousand years ago, the Jewish scholar Hillel said, "If I am not for myself, who am I? And if I am only for myself, what am I?" Governing is the art of balancing and compromise that leaders must engage in to help create a just and moral society. Thoughtful societies debate how to spend limited resources for the common good.

I am glad that religious leaders are part of the debate. In our meeting, we discussed a variety of subjects including Iran, the Mideast peace process, the environment, same sex-marriage and immigration law. The ground rules for this, and other such meetings, prohibit direct quotation and I feel that this restriction is valuable. It allows the conversation to be more open and reflective, rather than guarded.

In addition to our diverse opinions about many topics, perhaps one more role that religious people can have in these debates is to remind each other that we are all created in G-d's image. How we allocate to take care of the most vulnerable in our society is a measure of how good we are.

And how we speak to one another and engage in debate is also a reflection of the goodness of our society. Will we vilify those who hold positions opposite our own, or will we lovingly seek to understand the position of another? The sage Hillel was rewarded because he sought to deeply understand the positions of those he disagreed with.

As a proud American, I was thrilled and inspired to meet the president. As a proud Jew, I was also inspired to meet Jack Lew, the president's chief of staff. Naturally peppering his speech with meaningful Hebrew concepts like chesed and tikkun olam, Mr. Lew is a wonderful example of how one can live Jewish values of tikkun olam and justice through civic work while remaining committed to intense Jewish life.

We are privileged to be citizens of this great democracy, a democracy that wants to hear from us and to be interpreters of Jewish wisdom. It is incumbent upon us to help weave our values into the great fabric of the United States, to advocate on behalf of a secure Israel and to champion compassionate polices that take care of those in need.
Andrea L. Merow is a rabbi at Beth Sholom Congregation in Elkins Park.

proud American Jews, it is our responsibility to have ongoing dialogue with officials in every administration. My teacher, Rabbi David Saperstein of the Reform Movement's Religious Action Center, instructs that it is of vital importance for American Jews to have strong ties with leaders in both parties. This civic responsibility to engage with our leaders allows us to help shape the debate about how we as a society can live our core values of tikkun olam, repair of the world, support for Israel, care for others and more.
<p>Many times, especially in a difficult economy, governing is about having to balance priorities and even choose between competing values and projects. Two thousand years ago, the Jewish scholar Hillel said, "If I am not for myself, who am I? And if I am only for myself, what am I?" Governing is the art of balancing and compromise that leaders must engage in to help create a just and moral society. Thoughtful societies debate how to spend limited resources for the common good.
<p>I am glad that religious leaders are part of the debate. In our meeting, we discussed a variety of subjects including Iran, the Mideast peace process, the environment, same sex-marriage and immigration law. The ground rules for this, and other such meetings, prohibit direct quotation and I feel that this restriction is valuable. It allows the conversation to be more open and reflective, rather than guarded.
<p>In addition to our diverse opinions about many topics, perhaps one more role that religious people can have in these debates is to remind each other that we are all created in G-d's image. How we allocate to take care of the most vulnerable in our society is a measure of how good we are.
<p>And how we speak to one another and engage in debate is also a reflection of the goodness of our society. Will we vilify those who hold positions opposite our own, or will we lovingly seek to understand the position of another? The sage Hillel was rewarded because he sought to deeply understand the positions of those he disagreed with.
<p>As a proud American, I was thrilled and inspired to meet the president. As a proud Jew, I was also inspired to meet Jack Lew, the president's chief of staff. Naturally peppering his speech with meaningful Hebrew concepts like chesed and tikkun olam, Mr. Lew is a wonderful example of how one can live Jewish values of tikkun olam and justice through civic work while remaining committed to intense Jewish life.
<p>We are privileged to be citizens of this great democracy, a democracy that wants to hear from us and to be interpreters of Jewish wisdom. It is incumbent upon us to help weave our values into the great fabric of the United States, to advocate on behalf of a secure Israel and to champion compassionate polices that take care of those in need.
Andrea L. Merow is a rabbi at Beth Sholom Congregation in Elkins Park.
 

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