So it is a great pleasure to be here. I just bumped into a bunch of folks from Massachusetts, and I’m glad to meet with them. And Justice Breyer is here somewhere. I saw him a few minutes ago on TV, wounded as he is, but strong in spirit, a fellow cyclist who was injured cycling, but don’t hold that against us.
And I want to join with Bob, if I can, just for a minute, to acknowledge the passing of a great friend of mine, a great friend of Israel, a champion of the American Jewish community, and that’s Senator Frank Lautenberg. He was just a special guy. I got to know him particularly well because I traveled down to Rio to the first Earth Summit with him in 1990 in his first round in the Senate before he retired, which he wasn’t able to be held to and came back.
Frank was a funny, funny man, a great sense of humor, but a dedicated person. He was a son of immigrants who first put on the uniform of the United States Armed Forces at the age of 18, and as we all know, he passed away this morning, the last World War II veteran serving in the United States Senate.
In the Senate, he wrote laws helping refugees of all faiths escape persecution. He banned foreign aid to state sponsors of terrorism. And he made sure that victims of terror were able to find justice in this world. He was always committed to public service. He was a loyal friend of everybody here and of people all over the world that he never met, and we will all miss the service of a man like Frank Lautenberg. (Applause.)
I want to thank the leadership and the membership of the AJC and the Jacob Blaustein Institute – Bob, David Harris, who over nearly a quarter of a century has helped to shape this distinguished organization like no one else, and of course your new president, Stan Bergman.
I thank you, every single one of you, for all that you do for Israel, but more for human rights, for civil rights around the world, for women’s rights, in fighting racism, religious intolerance, and torture. Thank you for all that you do to fight anti-Semitism around the world. I’m proud that I just appointed Ira Forman to lead that fight against anti-Semitism from the State Department, and you have a very strong partner in Ira. And of course, I thank you for what you do for the American Jewish community.
As many of you might know – if you don’t I tell you now – my brother Cam is a proud member of the community. He converted to Judaism 30 years ago before marrying his wife, Kathy. And this morning I’m proud to say he started as Acting Secretary of Commerce – the Commerce Department – and I’m told that today we become the first ever two brothers to lead Cabinet-level agencies at the same time. (Applause.)
When the Psalmist wrote the hymn, [in Hebrew] – (laughter) – “How good and pleasing it is for brothers to sit together in unity” – (laughter) – I’m pretty sure he wasn’t picturing us sitting together in the Cabinet Room of the White House – (laughter) – though our mother may well have. (Laughter.) Either way, I can tell you that it will be an honor to serve alongside my brother Cam, even if it’s just for a short while.
For more than a century, AJC has been a partner and a pioneer in defining the relationship between American Jews and Israel, and a leader in strengthening that relationship. You’ve built bridges during difficult times and hopeful ones alike, and we’ve seen them all in this journey.
I know many look at the landscape today and you’re not inclined to act – somehow too risky, too much turmoil. There are a lot of people who are quick to call this moment too difficult a time, too dangerous, too daunting a time. I understand that temptation, and I full recognize the challenges and the predicament in which Israel finds itself. But I also firmly believe that this is a hopeful time. If we choose to make it so, this can actually be a time of possibility and a time of promise. And with your help, it can be a time of peace.