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September 28, 2016 / 25 Elul, 5776
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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.


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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.

Rabbi Elchanan Poupko

About the Author: Rabbi Elchanan Poupko is a rabbi, writer, teacher, and blogger (www.rabbipoupko.com). He lives with his wife in New York City.


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