Bush backs Israel in roundtable discussion with rabbis, including Daniel Syme.
MATTHEW E. BERGER
Jewish Telegraphic Agency
uoyed by an election victory on the
strength of faith and values,
President Bush began selling his sec-
ond-term agenda to a Jewish community
that is aligned with him on some issues but
largely against him on others.
Bush spent more than an hour meeting
with a diverse group of rabbis on Dec. 9,
part of his annual Chanukah celebration.
The 12-rabbi audience included Rabbi
Daniel Syme of Temple Beth El in
Bloomfield Township. Rabbi Syme said he
still doesn't know how he got on the list,
which included five Orthodox rabbis; Rabbi
Marvin Hier, founder of the Simon
Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles; and Dr.
Norman Lamm president of Yeshiva
University in New York City. Oddly, no
Conservative rabbis were invited.
Temple Beth El Rabbi Daniel Syme is two seats to the president's left.
"I'm still flying from this experience," Rabbi
Syme said the next day. "He was extraordinary,
savvy and personable. He said, 'I don't know
against abuse of the program.
what my legacy is going to be. That's for future gener-
At one point, Bush polled the room to gauge how
Bush also reiterated his commitment to supporting
ations to decide. But I will always hope to be known
the rabbis viewed anti-Semitism in the United States
faith-based initiatives, saying government should not
as a president who said what he meant and pursued it
and seemed taken aback that some see it as a problem.
discriminate against faith. Bush made faith and values
with all my strength.'"
Several rated it a three or four on a scale of one to 10.
a cornerstone of his re-election campaign this year.
Bush said little new in the meeting about his objec-
"That surprised him, but it may have been important
While he garnered more Jewish votes than in 2000,
tives for the next four years, but articulated his agenda
for him to hear it," said Rabbi Howard Alpert, execu-
many American Jews remain concerned about conser-
in a concise manner that could appeal to the Jewish
tive director of Hillel of Greater Philadelphia. "He
vative values shaping White House policy.
community, participants said.
didn't argue with it."
Bush met some resistance when he said his victory
Bush touched on many issues, including the Middle showed that a majority of the United States wants to
Bush said he felt anti-Semitism in Europe was a
East, at the meeting held in the Eisenhower Executive
seven or eight on the scale and pledged to continue
return to values, wholesomeness and efforts to combat
Office Building next to the White House. He said that moral degradation. Rabbi Rex Perimeter of the
working with European leaders to combat the prob-
if a democratic Palestinian state still doesn't live peace-
lem, participants said.
Baltimore Hebrew Congregation questioned that, say-
fully next to Israel, the Jewish state has the right to
He also discussed the human rights crisis in Sudan,
ing one could perceive Bush's views as intolerant, sug-
defend itself, and its efforts would receive U.S. back-
saying that for some issues there aren't necessarily mili-
gesting that those who didn't support him aren't moti-
ing. Many Jews credit Bush with standing strongly
tary solutions. Bush also said Saudi Arabia under-
vated by values or are not wholesome.
behind Israel in his first term, leading more Jews to
it still has work to do to combat terrorism with-
Bush quickly apologized, saying he understands that
back Bush in November's election.
Democrats — explicitly naming his presidential oppo-
"He said the ultimate answer to peace in the
nent, Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts — also are
Middle East is a Palestinian state that is a democracy,"
driven by values. "I gave him the credit that it wasn't
Rabbi Syme said. "And he said that we have outlined a
his intention, but I was giving the example of how eas- Hand-Picked Group
series of steps that must be taken to lead the
The White House faced criticism from some Jewish
ily we can cross the line into intolerance," Rabbi
Palestinians to a free democratic state, and it's going to
leaders for choosing to meet with a hand-picked
group of rabbis rather than appointed heads of
The exchange arose as Bush made the case for his
Rabbi Syme said the president cited the Afghan
organizations. The Dec. 9 meeting included
faith-based initiative program. He told the rabbis it
election as an example. He quoted the president as
predominantly congregational rabbis, many of
was not the government's place to bring religion to
saying "14 million people voted for a president in
them from swing states in the election, like
people, but that religious organizations do good work
Afghanistan. The same things are going to happen in
and can change people's hearts. Several prominent
Iraq, and the same thing is going to happen in the
No Conservative rabbis were in attendance, a
Jewish organizations oppose faith-based initiatives,
source of frustration for Rabbi Jerome Epstein,
concerned that federal funding for religiously based
"Bush also said the United States is Israel's only true
executive vice president and CEO of the New
social service programs violates the separation of
friend among the nations of the world, and we will
United Synagogue of Conservative
church and state and will promote proselytizing.
remain so, and we will support Israel in every way nec- Orthodox groups back the program.
essary to ensure its strength and continuity."
Bush said the democratic process is the best defense
PRESIDENTIAL MINYAN on page 28