Obama reiterates his record on Israel:
Before the speech, Obama met on the sidelines of the conference with Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak, who had already spoke at the convention, for about a half hour.
- President defends commitment to Israel's security
- Proud of "hardest-hitting" sanctions on Iran expected to be signed into law soon
- Obama says his administration has led fight against delegitimization
Transcript of Remarks by President Barack Obama
I am honored to be here because of the proud history and tradition of the Union for Reform Judaism, representing more than 900 congregations, around 1.5 million American Jews.
I want to congratulate all of you on the golden anniversary of the Religious Action Center. As Eric mentioned, When President Kennedy spoke to leaders from the RAC in 1961, I was three months old, so my memory is a bit hazy. But I am very familiar with the work that you've done ever since, and so is the rest of America.
And that's because you helped draft the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act. You helped to liberate Soviet Jews. You have made a difference on so many of the defining issues of the last half-century. And without these efforts, I probably wouldn't be standing here today. So thank you. Thank you. You have brought to life your faith and your values, and the world is a better place for it.
Now, since my daughter Malia has reached the age where it seems like there's always a Bar or Bat Mitzvah every weekend, and there is quite a bit of negotiations around the skirts that she wears at these Bat Mitzvahs — (laughter) — do you guys have these conversations as well? (Laughter.) All right. I just wanted to be clear it wasn't just me. (Laughter.) What time you get home.
As a consequence, she's become the family expert on Jewish tradition. And if there's one thing I've learned from her, it's that it never hurts to begin a speech by discussing the Torah portion. It doesn't hurt.
So this week congregations around the world will retell the story of Joseph. As any fan of Broadway musicals will tell you, there is a lot going on in this reading. But many scholars have focused on a single word that Joseph uses when he replies to his father Jacob.
In Hebrew, that word is hineni. It translates to "Here I am." Hineni. It's the same word Abraham uses to reply to God before the binding of Isaac. It's the same word Moses uses when God summons him from the burning bush. Hineni. The text is telling us that while Joseph does not know what lies ahead, he is ready to answer the call.
In this case, "hineni" leads Joseph to Egypt. It sets in motion a story of enslavement and exodus that would come to inspire leaders like Martin Luther King as they sought freedom. It's a story of persecution and perseverance that has repeated itself from Inquisition-era Spain to Tsarist Russia to Hitler's Germany.
And in that often-tragic history, this place, America, stands out. Now, we can't whitewash the past. Like so many ethnic groups, Jews faced prejudice, and sometimes violence, as they sought their piece of the American Dream. But here, Jews finally found a place where their faith was protected; where hard work and responsibility paid off; where no matter who you were or where you came from, you could make it if you tried. Here in America, you really could build a better life for your children.
I know how much that story means to many of you, because I know how much that story means to me. My father was from Kenya; my mother was from Kansas — not places with a large Jewish community. But when my Jewish friends tell me about their ancestors, I feel a connection. I know what it's like to think, "Only in America is my story even possible."
More after the jump.