August 10, 2006
Mr. President, Thank You for Standing by Israel
I never preach or write about politics. I think it is inappropriate for the rabbi of a large congregation to do so.
Firstly, I am a rabbi not a political scientist. I do not presume to know more about matters of state than my congregants. I know they can read The New York Times, the L.A. Times, The Wall Street Journal, watch CNN and Fox and listen to NPR as well as I can. They do not need me to regurgitate the news for them. Secondly, I grew up in a home where politics was a private matter. That is a value I have honored my entire life.
I have disappointed many a temple member and organization by refusing to endorse their politics in a public fashion by my presence at an event or my name on an advertisement in the papers or petition. My politics are my business; other people's are not.
Finally, of course, if I were to endorse one party over another or to stand publicly on the right or left of a purely political issue, there is little doubt that I would alienate 50 percent of my members. I know that a 50 percent approval rating is reasonably good for politicians, but for rabbis it's the road to early retirement.
I tell you this so that you know what I have to say to you is not about politics but about something far more important. It is about truth, justice and freedom. For reasons I have already explained, I have neither criticized nor praised your policies in any public forum. This is different. The letter I am sending you today will be published and distributed to many thousands of people. I hope they read it carefully and take it to heart:
Thank you! Thank you for standing by Israel during this time of great sorrow and this test of her resolve to bring lasting peace to her borders, to the Jewish people everywhere and to the entire Middle East.
The Middle East is full of innocent victims 'the political footballs of regimes, dynasties, despots, fanatics and thugs. Thank you for standing by Israel's side as she tries to rid not only her own people but also the people of Lebanon, the Middle East and the world of Hezbollah.
How right you were when you said, "Now, more than ever, the Palestinians need leaders who are not compromised by terror and who will help the Palestinian people provide a future for their children based on regional peace and security."
And how right you were when you said, "In the long term, this peace will come only by defeating the terrorist ideology of hatred and fear. The world's best hope for lasting security and stability across the Middle East is the establishment of free and just societies. America and our allies will act decisively, because we know our security is at stake in this struggle, and we know the cause of freedom will prevail."
While, I have not always agreed with you in the past, if someone asked me what I would want the president of the United States of America to say and do during this time when Israel is being threatened by terrorists, I would answer by telling him, "Exactly what President Bush is saying and doing."
Politics isn't my thing. But I do know something about Jewish history. Jewish history is replete with horrific examples of the world turning its back on us. Throughout more than 3,000 years of our history, the dominant world power at any given time was almost always against us.
The Egyptians in the Bible, the Babylonians, the Roman Empire, the Greek Empire, Europe of the middle ages, even our "golden era" in Spain came to a torturous end in a brutal Inquisition. In the modern era, the Turks, the British, certainly the Nazis, the communists and the vast majority of Arab nations have caused us merciless suffering.
America is unique. You are unique. We are blessed to live in a world where the dominant power is standing with us, rather than against us in the face of terror and hatred. We are blessed that you make no apology to Hezbollah terrorists who hope to kill Israeli children, to cowards who hide their rockets behind defenseless civilians.
There is little more I can say to you Mr. President other than to let you know of my profound gratitude to you for your steadfast friendship to Israel and the Jewish people. I believe that it comes from a place deep within you that transcends politics.
My intention in this letter also transcends politics. Its purpose is simply to say thank you for privileging what is in your heart regarding Israel and the Jewish people.
Thank you for standing with us as we stand against terror, intolerance and hatred.
God bless you Mr. President.
And God bless the United States of America.
Steven Z. Leder is senior rabbi at Wilshire Boulevard Temple and author of "The Extraordinary Nature of Ordinary Things" (Behrman House, 1999) and "More Money Than God: Living a Rich Life Without Losing Your Soul" (Bonus Books, 2004).