The President and the Biennial
For the first time in the history of the Reform Movement, the sitting Presi-dent of the United States came personally on December 16
to address theBiennial Convention of the Union for Reform Judaism in Washington, DC.It was an exhilarating moment, for all of us, 6,700 strong, and ultimately itleft me feeling extremely proud of our Reform Movement, for the ideals of universal justice and compassion that it has actively and unwaveringly pur-sued. Just before President Obama arrived, we celebrated the fiftieth anni-versary of the Religious Action Center in Washington, the brain trust of thesocial justice initiatives of Reform Judaism. You will recall that the RACwas founded in 1961 by Kivie Kaplan, z”l, a committed Reform Jew, whoalso served at that time as President of the NAACP. President Obama notedthe anniversary at the beginning of his address.I want to congratulate all of you on the golden anniversary of the Religious Action Center . . . WhenPresident Kennedy spoke to leaders from the RAC in 1961, I was three months old, so my memoryis 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 RightsAct. You helped to liberate Soviet Jews. You have made a difference on so many of the definingissues of the last half-century. And without these efforts, I probably wouldn’t be standing here to-day. So thank you. Thank you. You have brought to life your faith and your values, and the worldis a better place for it.The president went on to deliver a wonderful speech, framed in fine homiletic style by one of the key words of the Torah portion of that week, as it was uttered by Joseph as he replied to his father Jacob.In Hebrew, that word is “
.” It translates to “Here I am.”
. It’s the same word Abra-ham uses to reply to God before the binding of Isaac. It’s the same word Moses uses when Godsummons him from the burning bush.
. The text is telling us that while Joseph does notknow what lies ahead, he is ready to answer the call.I would urge you all to read the full text of President Obama’s speech. You may find it in the highlights of theBiennial on the URJ website at:www.urj.org. No matter what party we may affiliate with, and no matterwhom we may vote for when we exercise our rights as Americans next November, the principles of justiceand fairness that the president articulated are, in my understanding of Jewish tradition, consistent with theteachings of our Jewish tradition as it has come down to us through the generations of our history. As Ameri-cans we may have divergent points of view as to how to achieve these goals. But ultimately they are consis-tent with Jewish goals, in our pursuit of Tikkun Olam, the reparation of our world.On Friday, January 20th, Bea Hanks, Abe Barnett, Lauren Phillips, Daniel Kirzane, John Golomb, and I willspeak with you as a group about some of the highlights of the Biennial, the particular seminars we attended,and our impressions. I hope you will join us for this important presentation. And, if I may, I would put in aplug for you to begin gearing up to attend the next Biennial, which will be in San Diego in 2013. It is an ex-traordinary opportunity for all Reform Jews.
-Rabbi Linda Henry Goodman