One People, One Destiny

President Richard M. Joel Reflects on his Recent Visit to the White House

Last week, I had a wonderful opportunity to meet with President Barack Obama and his Chief of Staff Jack Lew in the White House as part of a delegation of the Orthodox community convened by the Orthodox Union.

We enjoyed a full and frank discussion with the president on a range of issues of concern to us as Jews and as Americans. We were, of course, treated cordially, and the conversation was nuanced. We discussed issues that included the balances between rights in a pluralistic society and religious liberties, the role of values in American society, affordability of education, Israel and Iran. The president and chief of staff were articulate, forthright and engaging. I’ll leave the policy discussions to others.

I have a few personal reflections to share. When I visit the White House, especially the West Wing, I am struck with the realization that my grandfather lived his life as a locksmith in Vilna and his grandson is visiting the president of the United States. This says so much about America and its opportunities and freedoms. It also speaks to the enduring mission of the Jewish people. At our meeting, someone reflected on the sense of history in the fact that a delegation of the Orthodox community could be in the White House, and the president asked us to imagine how he feels. It is not to be taken for granted.

After the meeting, YU Vice President and Chief of Staff Josh Joseph and I encountered an Israeli tour group in front of the north gate on Pennsylvania Avenue. Speaking Hebrew, the tour guide was talking to the group about the Oval Office. I couldn’t help telling them that we had been in the Oval Office just a half hour ago as part of a Jewish delegation. The group was amazed and proud. One people, one destiny.

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