President Obama at Adas Israel

Celebrating Jewish Heritage Month, President Barack Obama made the three mile long schlep on Friday morning from the White House to Adas Israel Congregation in the Cleveland Park neighborhood of Northwest D.C. where nearly one thousand attendees eagerly awaited his speech. Prior to the President’s arrival, the University of Maryland Jewish a-cappella group Rak Shalom performed for the crowd. Between songs, Rak Shalom members took advantage of the opportunity to pitch the high-powered crowd. One recent political science graduate mentioned he was looking for a job, while another noted that Rak Shalom was in need of sponsorships and even offered to change the name to ‘BaRak’ Shalom.

Rabbi Gil Steinlauf introduced the President who, speaking without teleprompters, began with wishing “a slightly early Shabbat Shalom.” The President continued, “earlier this week, I was actually interviewed by one of your members, Jeff Goldberg.  (Applause.)  And Jeff reminded me that he once called me “the first Jewish President.” (Laughter.)  Now, since some people still seem to be wondering about my faith — (laughter) — I should make clear this was an honorary title. (Laughter.)  But I was flattered. “And as an honorary member of the tribe, not to mention somebody who’s hosted seven White House Seders and been advised by — (applause) — and been advised by two Jewish chiefs of staff, I can also proudly say that I’m getting a little bit of the hang of the lingo. (Laughter.) But I will not use any of the Yiddish-isms that Rahm Emanuel taught me because — (laughter) — I want to be invited back. (Laughter.) Let’s just say he had some creative new synonyms for “Shalom.” (Laughter.)”

On Iran: “I can’t stand here today and guarantee an agreement will be reached. We’re hopeful. We’re working hard. But nothing is agreed until everything is agreed.  And I’ve made clear that when it comes to preventing Iran from getting a nuclear weapon, all options are and will remain on the table. Moreover, even if we do get a good deal, there remains the broader issue of Iran’s support for terrorism and regional destabilization, and ugly threats against Israel. And that’s why our strategic partnership with Israel will remain, no matter what happens in the days and years ahead. And that’s why the people of Israel must always know America has its back, and America will always have its back. (Applause.)”

On Israel: “It is precisely because I care so deeply about the state of Israel — it’s precisely because, yes, I have high expectations for Israel the same way I have high expectations for the United States of America — that I feel a responsibility to speak out honestly about what I think will lead to long-term security and to the preservation of a true democracy in the Jewish homeland. Now, I want to emphasize — that’s not easy.  The Palestinians are not the easiest of partners.  (Laughter.)  The neighborhood is dangerous.  And we cannot expect Israel to take existential risks with their security so that any deal that takes place has to take into account the genuine dangers of terrorism and hostility.”

On Disagreements: “There will be disagreements on tactics when it comes to how to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon, and that is entirely appropriate and should be fully aired… But there are also going to be some disagreements rooted in shared history that go beyond tactics, that are rooted in how we might remain true to our shared values. So when I hear some people say that disagreements over policy belie a general lack of support of Israel, I must object, and I object forcefully.  (Applause.)  For us to paper over difficult questions, particularly about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict or about settlement policy, that’s not a true measure of friendship.” [Transcript]



SPOTTED AT ADAS ISRAEL: Sen. Michael Bennet, Rep. Sandy Levin, the Lantos family, Ira Forman, Rabbi Steven Wernick, Jeffrey Goldberg, Judy Gross, Steve Rabinowitz, William Daroff, Alan Solow, Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi, Eric Fingerhut, Matt Nosanchuk, Greg Rosenbaum, Nathan Diament, Abba Cohen, Jay Footlick, Rabbi Nissan Antine, Ron Halber, Matt Dorf, Steve Rakitt, Barbara Goldberg Goldman, and Alex Jakubowski.

White House Pool Report: “After his speech at Adas Israel, Obama made an unannounced visit to a downstairs classroom of pre-schoolers singing Shabbat Shalom. There were 11 of them by this pollster’s count, plus about four or five teachers. Obama arrived after the pool took up positions. “Hello Everybody! How you doing?” POTUS joined in the song, then bent down to talk to one of the kids, who said he was two-years old. One boy approached the president with a black and white photo of what appeared to be Obama. “Who’s that?” the president asked. “It’s so nice to see you.”

HOW THE SPEECH PLAYED: “At Synagogue, Obama Restates His Support for Israel” [NYTimes] • “Obama shores up Jewish support at D.C. synagogue” [Politico] • “Obama strikes right chord with Jewish audience” [Haaretz] • “Obama says Israel should live up to its founding ideals” [WashPost]


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