Filling in for the President of the United States is a tough job for anyone, especially when the audience is made up of 3,000 Jewish activists eagerly anticipating the first address of the President Obama to a Jewish communal organization.
But White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel managed to keep the crowd satisfied in his Tuesday speech at the Jewish Federations of North America’s General Assembly. He gave a detailed policy speech, and took on claims against his boss from members of the Jewish community. He also succeeded in making participants laugh, living up to his reputation as one of the sharpest politicians in town.
So here are some of the Emanuel highlights:
• After making a joke at the expense of his Washington, D.C.-based rabbi, Jack Moline, Emanuel shared with the crowd his concern that at next year’s High Holy Day services, he would be moved to the back row. That, according to Emanuel, would actually be better because it would allow him to leave before the service is over.
• On being sent to stand in for President Obama, Emanuel said that he understood that he was not the first choice, but reassured his Jewish listeners that he was not offended. Being a middle child, Emanuel said, prepared him for that.
• Emanuel gave his father credit for instilling in him the value of persistence: “Some of my political opponents would say he instilled this quality a little too successful.”
• But the line that got the most applause was when Emanuel spoke of his plans to travel with his brother Ari to celebrate the bar mitzvah of their respective sons in Israel this year. “That’s cheap, the applause,” Emanuel told the cheering Jewish delegates.“I’ll take an $18 check on behalf of him.”
For more highlights of Emanuel speech, regarding Israel, the Palestinians and Iran, click here.
Nathan Guttman, staff writer, was the Forward’s Washington bureau chief. He joined the staff in 2006 after serving for five years as Washington correspondent for the Israeli dailies Haaretz and The Jerusalem Post. In Israel, he was the features editor for Ha’aretz and chief editor of Channel 1 TV evening news. He was born in Canada and grew up in Israel. He is a graduate of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
At GA, Emanuel Talks U.S. Policy, His Own Jewish Practice