Obama Wins Rousing Cheers at Reform Biennial

Trumpets Support of Israel and Even Reads a Torah Portion

Stand and Cheer: Thousands cheered President Barack Obama’s speech to the Union for Reform Judaism biennial conference.
getty images
Stand and Cheer: Thousands cheered President Barack Obama’s speech to the Union for Reform Judaism biennial conference.

By Nathan Guttman

Published December 16, 2011.
  • Print
  • Share Share

In a speech aimed at liberal Jewish voters, President Obama sought to rebut Republican claims that he was soft in his support for Israel and praised Reform Judaism’s support for civil rights and social justice in his address at the biennial meeting of the Union for Reform Judaism.

The crowd of 6,000, in turn, enthusiastically greeted his message. “Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise, it is a fact,” Obama said, “No U.S. administration has done more in support for Israel security than ours, none.”

The president divided his speech evenly between a promise of his commitment to social justice and a pledge to support Israel.

His opening won over the crowd immediately. Sharing with the audience his daughter Malia’s recent experiences attending her classmates’ Bar and Bat Mitzva celebrations, Obama said that one lesson he had gained was to always open a speech with a story about this week’s Torah portion. To the cheers and laughter of the audience Obama moved directly into a discussion of the story of Joseph and his brothers from the coming Sabbath’s Torah portion.

Obama went on to praise his hosts and echoed many of the themes raised by the Reform movement’s leaders throughout their conference. Pointing to the group’s work on civil rights and social justice, the president turned to his own life story, stating that “only in America” could his story be possible. “None of this would be possible without you,” Obama said as he listed the achievements of the struggle for civil rights.

It was a speech clearly crafted as a campaign address, with Obama taking care to respond to recent attacks against him by his Republican rivals, though he never named them. Among other things, Obama stressed that he would keep working to advance the peace process. “I have never wavered in pursuit of a just and lasting peace – two states for two peoples; an independent Palestine alongside a secure Jewish State of Israel,” Obama said.

He acknowledged the frustration many shared about the lack of progress in the peace process but asserted that peace between Israel and the Palestinians could not be imposed from the outside. It had to be negotiated between the two parties, Obama stressed. “I am not going to stop in pursuit of this vision,” he promised.

Obama also repeated his pledge not to allow Iran to acquire nuclear weapons. He stated that “all options are on the table,” a statement that usually wins applauds among Jewish listeners but that was greeted with silence by his audience at the URJ conference. “My commitment to Israel’s security is unshakeable,” Obama added. “That’s what friends and allies do to each other, so don’t let anyone else tell you a different story. Those are the facts.”

Before entering the hall, Obama met in a side room with Israeli defense minister Ehud Barak for a short discussion. Barak told reporters after the meeting that the United States and Israel see eye to eye on the crucial issue of Iran’s nuclear threat.

Obama received numerous standing ovations from a visibly supportive audience. Shaking hands and waving to the audience for several minutes after concluding his speech, Obama seemed to feel at ease with the Reform crowd, representing America’s largest Jewish denomination.

“His domestic agenda resonated intensely with the 6,000 Jewish leaders from across the U.S. and his affirmation of his record on Israel and on curtailing Iran’s nuclear ambitions was clearly compelling to these leaders from all North America,” said Rabbi David Saperstein, head of the Reform Movement’s Religious Action Center.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • "If Netanyahu re-opens the settlement floodgates, he will recklessly bolster the argument of Hamas that the only language Israel understands is violence."
  • Would an ultra-Orthodox leader do a better job of running the Met Council?
  • So, who won the war — Israel or Hamas?
  • 300 Holocaust survivors spoke out against Israel. Did they play right into Hitler's hands?
  • Ari Folman's new movie 'The Congress' is a brilliant spectacle, an exhilarating visual extravaganza and a slapdash thought experiment. It's also unlike anything Forward critic Ezra Glinter has ever seen. http://jd.fo/d4unE
  • The eggplant is beloved in Israel. So why do Americans keep giving it a bad rap? With this new recipe, Vered Guttman sets out to defend the honor of her favorite vegetable.
  • “KlezKamp has always been a crazy quilt of gay and straight, religious and nonreligious, Jewish and gentile.” Why is the klezmer festival shutting down now?
  • “You can plagiarize the Bible, can’t you?” Jill Sobule says when asked how she went about writing the lyrics for a new 'Yentl' adaptation. “A couple of the songs I completely stole." Share this with the theater-lovers in your life!
  • Will Americans who served in the Israeli army during the Gaza operation face war crimes charges when they get back home?
  • Talk about a fashion faux pas. What was Zara thinking with the concentration camp look?
  • “The Black community was resistant to the Jewish community coming into the neighborhood — at first.” Watch this video about how a group of gardeners is rebuilding trust between African-Americans and Jews in Detroit.
  • "I am a Jewish woman married to a non-Jewish man who was raised Catholic, but now considers himself a “common-law Jew.” We are raising our two young children as Jews. My husband's parents are still semi-practicing Catholics. When we go over to either of their homes, they bow their heads, often hold hands, and say grace before meals. This is an especially awkward time for me, as I'm uncomfortable participating in a non-Jewish religious ritual, but don't want his family to think I'm ungrateful. It's becoming especially vexing to me now that my oldest son is 7. What's the best way to handle this situation?" http://jd.fo/b4ucX What would you do?
  • Maybe he was trying to give her a "schtickle of fluoride"...
  • It's all fun, fun, fun, until her dad takes the T-Bird away for Shabbos.
  • "Like many Jewish people around the world, I observed Shabbat this weekend. I didn’t light candles or recite Hebrew prayers; I didn’t eat challah or matzoh ball soup or brisket. I spent my Shabbat marching for justice for Eric Garner of Staten Island, Michael Brown of Ferguson, and all victims of police brutality."
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.