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Washington Revisited

The enemies of the Jewish people look longingly to the day when they will, God forbid, have the means to make good their threats to kill as many of us as possible.

The 400 Rabbis’ march on Washington, 1943.

The 400 Rabbis’ march on Washington, 1943.

Last month I took the opportunity to go to Washington and attend the AIPAC conference for rabbis. As I traveled there I was reminded of a similar trip my great-grandfather made decades ago.

Back in 1943, as the extermination of European Jewry was proceeding at full force, my great-grandfather went to Washington as part of what came to be known as the Rabbis’ March –four hundred Orthodox rabbis converging on the nation’s capital three days before Yom Kippur in an attempt to influence President Roosevelt to take action on behalf of the Jews of Europe.

Shamefully, the president would not meet with them, sending Vice President Henry Wallace in his stead. Among the rabbis who made the trip were some of the most prominent in America, including Rabbis Moshe Feinstein and Eliezer Silver. They were determined to focus attention on the horrible fate of European Jewry, yet their effort was very much ignored. And while they were sent back with empty hands, it was the president who failed, not the rabbis who marched.

History will forever judge Roosevelt for turning a deaf ear to the victims’ cries and for not agreeing to even meet with the rabbis who were trying so desperately echo that painful call – just as history will look harshly on the relative silence of organized American Jewry during those horrific years.

Seventy years later I found myself making the same trip, and while some things have changed since the days of my revered grandfather, other things remain the same.

What has changed is that, thank God, the Jewish people have a state of our own. No longer do we need to go banging on the doors of others imploring them to allow us in; we have a strong and vibrant Jewish state where Jews are more than welcome no matter where they come from and what they bring with them.

In America, meanwhile, we enjoy outstanding levels of equality, dignity and opportunity. When AIPAC holds a conference, there is no need to ask the president to meet with us – he is more than eager to do so. Our voice is heard and appreciated.

What is still the same, however, is that the enemies of the Jewish people look longingly to the day when they will, God forbid, have the means to make good their threats to kill as many of us as possible.

Iran remains dedicated to obtaining nuclear weapons and the Iranian regime has made it clear that it aspires to unleash those weapons against Israel. The Iranians’ commitment to the destruction of Israel cannot be questioned; they have demonstrated that commitment through their ongoing support for Hamas and Hizbullah. Should they achieve nuclear capability, how long would it take before they bombed Israel?

We cannot allow history to repeat itself. But what can we, as individuals, do about Iran’s nuclear program?

There is a three-word answer to that: action, action, action.

We must contact our senators and congressmen. We must make ourselves heard and tell our political leaders that this is our top concern and priority. We know the U.S. government imposed tough sanctions of Iran – but those are simply not working and Iran is moving closer and closer to getting the weapons of mass destruction it so desires.

We all need to take action and we need to do so now. If we don’t, future generations may well look back at us the way we look back at the American Jewish community of the 1940s.

About the Author: Rabbi Elchanan Poupko is a fellow at Yeshiva University’s Institute for Advanced Research in Jewish Law.


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5 Responses to “Washington Revisited”

  1. not clear whether having president Obama meet with AIPAC is any more effective than having president Roosevelt send his VP to the rabbis in 1943, but these reflections are well worth meditating upon.

  2. Cody Flecker says:

    Wasn't President Roosevelt a Democrat? Sounds familiar doesn't it. The Democratic Party is the party of the KKK, and Jim Crow. Ironically it took a former President who was a KKK member (Harry S Truman) to partially help Israel. What irony.

  3. Yechiel Baum says:

    Roosevelt – German.
    Eisenhower = German.
    Satmar Rebbe who escaped with his wife abandoning his flock to their hardship was attended to to avoid his death. The Satmar Jews had the least death since they were paid for by the Zionists to save them only to be stabbed in the back by them since they did not want their new Jews to know how low class and deceitful they are albeit the richest among all Jews yet have their hands out for donations to avoid working and army service in any country like parasites.

  4. Muslims teach from their unholy book, the Koran that to kill Jews is a good thing. They also believe that their Islamic Messiah will return when Israel and every Jew is eliminated. You CAN NOT negotiate with people who believe like that. Israel has many enemies including Obama but the Lord of Glory, God almighty, will see us through it all; this I do believe!

  5. AllanST says:

    Unity is important for ISRAEL and all Jews. Words of hatred and discontent do more harm than good. Our Lord God ALMIGHTY is with us and will protect ISRAEL from any weapon that can be formed against (including nuclear), us. We are fighting the good fight for the preservation of our Jewish families, our freedom and everything we hold to be sacred. Shalom Yisrael.

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