NEW YORK - The joke goes that President Barack Obama is this country’s first Jewish president, but Democratic Presidential Nominee Hillary Clinton seems to hope to claim that crown for herself.
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In a brief phone call she placed Thursday to 1,000 or so Jewish machers, she wished everyone a “shana tova” and spoke personally about her friend, the late President Shimon Peres.
“When he spoke, to me it was like listening to a psalm, and I loved sitting and listening to him whether it was about Israel, the nation he loved and did so much to defend, or about peace or just about life itself,” recalled Clinton, adding that her husband Bill Clinton is in Israel to attend the funeral and represent them both.
Clinton called in from Florida, where Jews are among those registering people, manning phone banks and canvassing door-to-door to help get out the vote. The head of Jewish outreach for the Clinton campaign, Sarah Branch, urged the Jewish community to keep up that work.
Clinton then spoke about her meeting last Sunday with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu.
“We reminisced, we talked about his visit to [the hit Broadway musical] ‘Hamilton,’ something I have relished seeing three times, but we talked about serious matters as well. I told him ‘if I am so fortunate to become president I will, as I always have, continue to stand up for Israel and to continue to work toward peace and do everything possible to protect Israel from unwarranted and unfair attempts to delegitimize it,’“ she related in the group call to rabbis, cantors and Jewish organizational leaders.
“We have to continue to work together because we are stronger together,” said Clinton, echoing her campaign’s theme. “We have to keep the unbreakable bond between the American and Israeli people.”
Clinton, a religious Methodist, sounded practically rabbinic as she spoke of the themes of this part of the Jewish year.
“The message of repentance and care and charity has always struck a chord with me,” said Clinton. “The High Holy Days are a time to reflect on the past year, take a hard look at the past and ask ourselves how we can do better in the year ahead. To build a country that is consistent with our best selves, highest ideals and values, a country which is big enough for all who want to work hard, and where we care for the vulnerable and marginalized,” she said.
“We do have to bring our country together and overcome the divide that pits people against each other. We need each other,” she said. “I am going to try to model and advocate for that and work to achieve that as president,” she said.
“My faith has guided me to a life of public service, particularly a passion for families and children,” said Clinton. “I try my best to live up to the responsibility said by the prophet Micah – to do justice, love mercy and walk humbly before our God. It is a great honor to wish all of you the happiest and healthiest of new years. Shana tova.”
Rabbi Julie Schonfeld, executive vice president of the Conservative movement’s Rabbinical Assembly, opened the call and introduced Secretary Clinton. She is, noted Branch, the first woman to run a rabbinical organization as its chief executive. Shonfeld also offered a benediction at the Democratic National Convention in July.
The only president to place an annual pre-holiday call to Jewish leaders has been Barack Obama, who has made a call before Rosh Hashana each year of his presidency, said Democratic sources. His predecessors never did. If elected it seems to be a ritual prized by the American Jewish community, one that Clinton will likely keep up.