Rosh Hashana messages from Kennedy, Reagan, Ford and Bush -- Hoover and Johnson too
Ticket reported Friday, President Obama delivered a message stressing peace, tolerance and the protection of Israel on the eve of Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year, which began at sundown Friday.
Obama was continuing a long tradition of inspirational messages delivered by presidents at the start of the high holy days. So on this, the first full day of the year 5770, the Ticket offers up examples of what previous White House occupants have said on Rosh Hashana.
These excerpts come from texts compiled by the American Presidency Project at UC Santa Barbara. For history buffs, the project’s website is a proverbial candy store, with links to documents, photos and videos of past presidents.
Some of Obama’s predecessors have praised the contributions of Jews to America, emphasized the ties between the U.S. and Israel, or called attention to current, and sometimes troubling, world events. In 2001, for example, Rosh Hashana came six days after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
Herbert Hoover, Sept. 12, 1929: “Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year, is an occasion upon which all citizens of our country may well recall with admiration and gratitude the whole-hearted loyalty and high-minded ideals of the Jewish element of our population. I felicitate them not only upon these qualities, so valuable to our civic life, but also upon their steadfast policy of furthering the cause of mutual respect and regard.”
Dwight D. Eisenhower, Sept. 5, 1956: “Rosh Hashana is significant to every American for, in the deepest spiritual sense, we are all of the seed of Abraham and Isaac. Our moral code, the ideals that animate us, the faith in God that strengthens us — all these were most clearly and most inspiringly proclaimed many centuries ago by men of Jewish blood.
“Their descendants, in race and in faith, have contributed greatly to the knowledge and the skills and the culture of America.”
John F. Kennedy, Sept. 6, 1961: “This is the hard wisdom of the centuries, marked again with the turning of each new season. We in the United States have found our way as a free people because we have gathered in our own traditions the experience of many peoples and lives. We have learned that tolerance and cooperation are the ways to true national strength. Americans of the Jewish faith have given to their country a great gift in this regard.”
Lyndon B. Johnson, Aug. 24, 1966: “These are the days when we are reminded that the perfect society is one which we must work to create and fashion in this world and in our own time. The prophets taught the Jewish people never to falter in the world-wide search for the betterment and peace of mankind and never to leave the conflict against the forces of discrimination and poverty.
“These are precepts which were inherited by our forefathers from those who received them at Sinai. They are beliefs which have been given new and forceful expression in the State of Israel, where they were first proclaimed and where Rosh Hashana prayers were first uttered.”
[The American Presidency Project notes that Johnson’s statement was posted on the bulletin board in the Press Room at the White House. It was not made public in a White House press release.]
Gerald Ford, Sept. 3, 1975: “On the eve of the two hundredth year of our independence as a nation, we are joined as Americans in a spirit of reflection, renewal and reaffirmation. This same spirit has united the Jewish people for centuries in the observance of Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur.
“Each of you can take deep pride in the profound and positive influence of the Judaic heritage on our national life. The principles that guide you in your religious worship have also inspired countless and enduring contributions of the Jewish people to humanity and social justice. Your values are a great component of our quest for the brotherhood of man under the Fatherhood of God. The inspired leadership and special sensitivity of Judaism in areas of humanitarian concern fill many brilliant chapters of America’s history.”
Ronald Reagan, Sept. 25, 1984: “The liturgy of Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur emphasizes both the moral obligations men have to their Maker and the ethical responsibilities we owe to our fellows. Fundamentally, America stands for the same principles. Indeed, these values...
... have been derived in large part from the Jewish tradition which is thereby inextricably linked to our American spiritual heritage.
“The ties between the Jewish and American traditions run deep and are related in no small way to the special relationship that exists between the United States and Israel -- a relationship based on the common spiritual and ethical values encompassed in the shofar’s call to prayer.”
Bill Clinton, Sept. 6, 1999: “Regrettably, this past year saw too many examples of hatred and violence inspired by ignorance and prejudice. We all can learn from the Jewish people’s strong dedication to civil rights and tolerance, and we all must redouble our efforts to combat the forces of intolerance that still linger in our society.
“As we celebrate Rosh Hashana, I urge all Americans to join the Jewish community and to come together as a nation to speak out against hate crimes and to appreciate our common humanity.”
George W. Bush, Sept. 17, 2001: “This year’s observance comes in the wake of great tragedy and at a time of national mourning and recovery.
“Rosh Hashana marks the beginning of a New Year within the Jewish community, and it is a time for personal reflection. As you prepare for Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, may this solemn period bring forth a deeper devotion to your faith’s noble ideals. During this time of renewal and recovery, may countless others join in praying for peace and for the growth of religious tolerance around the world.
“Rosh Hashana celebrates Judaism’s remarkable heritage, and it is a reaffirmation of God’s mercy, glory, and love. As you look ahead to the coming year, I join with other Americans of diverse backgrounds and beliefs in receiving inspiration from your faith, your holy acts of repentance, and your loving kindness. May this year’s celebration bless all who participate as we heal from the wounds inflicted by the recent terrorist attacks.”
-- Steve Padilla
Photo: Jeremy Goldstein, left, and his father, Ronald Goldstein, in 2000 at a Thousand Oaks temple. Credit: Los Angeles Times