There was a great deal of anticipation last Friday night as we anxiously awaited the arrival of Israel’s Ambassador to the United States. Our synagogue has been honored to have hosted his predecessors: Ambassadors Rabinovich, Shoval, Ayalon and Meridor.
I have known Michael Oren for a number of years. From the moment he walked into the synagogue and came up to the bema, it was clear that something was wrong. He sat down and whispered to me that he had just come from speaking with Prime Minister Netanyahu after having been summoned to the State Department to be read a formal letter of condemnation over the announcement made during the visit to Israel of Vice President Biden about the approval of housing permits for construction in Jerusalem. Right before I got up to introduce him, he said to me that he really was not sure what to say, and what not to say in light of what had just happened.
Somehow, he got up and spoke eloquently about the “risks associated with peace.” Midway through his talk, as he was delineating the threats and challenges faced by efforts to delegitimize the State of Israel, Sally, his wife, stepped out to take a phone call. She stood in the back and tried to get her husband’s attention. He had to take an urgent call from Prime Minister Netanyahu. It was 3:00 a.m. in the morning in Israel, so we knew the situation was serious. He excused himself saying he had to take this call from his boss. He came back, resumed his talk and was again interrupted for the second time. After the service, Ambassador Oren met in my office with Congressman Eliot Engel, the leader of the pro-Israel forces in the House of Representatives, and a member of B’nai Tzedek to discuss the implications of what had happened. All who were at B’nai Tzedek that night felt they were witnessing history. I couldn’t help but think of the saying, “Inside the Beltway.” This was inside the “inside of the Beltway.”
Throughout the week I was involved in a number of conversations with public officials and leaders in regard to the crisis of the rift between the United States and Israel. I wrote a letter to Congressman Steny Hoyer and a number of other members of Congress. The letter was widely circulated and distributed on the internet, and I have received numerous comments from across the country in support of what I wrote.
I can’t promise that this coming Shabbat will be as dramatic, but do hope you will come and join us, nevertheless.
Below is my introduction of the Ambassador.
Rabbi Weinblatt’s Introduction of
Ambassador Michael Oren
March 12, 2010
As anyone who follows the news, which is just about everyone here tonight, knows – Ambassador Michael Oren has just returned earlier today from a whirlwind trip to Israel. The primary purpose of his trip was to relax at a spa in order to rest up and prepare for this evening. In between he managed to have a little time for business and squeezed in a meeting or two with Envoy Mitchell, Vice President Biden, and Prime Minister Netanyahu.
I have known and been friends with Ambassador Oren ever since I first met him a number of years ago when I was a rabbinic fellow at the Hartman Institute. After a very distinguished academic career and as author of a number of important scholarly articles and several major books about the Middle East conflict, he left his position as senior fellow at the Shalem Center and answered the call to serve as Israel’s ambassador to the United States.
There is no finer choice Israel could have made to represent the Jewish nation at this difficult time than Michael Oren. He is bright, articulate, passionate and most of all a truly devoted servant of the Jewish people. I am gratified to see such a large turnout this evening. What Mr. Oren doesn’t know is – people are not really here to hear him speak. They are here to see if they are going to collect on their bets to see if he would actually show up. I saw someone last night who is a member of another congregation. I mentioned that the ambassador was coming to speak at our shul this evening. The guy said to me, “Hasn’t he already been at B’nai Tzedek a couple of times?” And I just said to him, “Yeah. This is his third visit.”
Ambassador Oren: the members of B’nai Tzedek are among the most loyal supporters of the State of Israel, with many of our congregants holding leadership positions in our local Jewish community as advocates for the Jewish state. It has been my pleasure to lead a number of congregational visits and trips, and you have even spoken to a few of our groups when we were in Jerusalem. Many of our members have deep connections and ties to the land of Israel, and our children have traveled there, with some serving in Israel’s armed forces and a couple of our members have made aliyah.
Each of your predecessors, since the dedication of our facility by Ambassador Itamar Rabinovich has been to B’nai Tzedek. We are pleased that you are accompanied this evening by your wife, Sally, who joins with you in your sacred work. I will warn you in advance – I cannot predict how your talk will be received, but I can guarantee you Mr. Ambassador that you are at home here, with friends, and that you will at least be far more welcome than you were at the University of California in Irvine. It is my pleasure and honor to welcome, His Excellency, the Ambassador of Israel, Michael Oren.