Jewish organizations are expressing grief at the passing of President George H.W. Bush on Friday night,
Agudath Israel of America commended President Bush for his devotion to service in many capacities; “Its people and its ideals — during war and peace, at home and abroad, in Congress and the White House.” Agudath Israel extolled the ‘wisdom, skill, statesmanship and temperament’ which helped the United States during the post-Cold War era, and he will be remembered “for his readiness to exert America’s strength to protect its interests and allies.”
In addition to his leadership on a national level, how President Bush engaged with Agudath Israel both as President and Vice President “He graciously welcomed Agudath Israel’s Washington Leadership Missions, joined by numerous members of the Cabinet and other high-ranking administration officials. He invited our executive leadership on several occasions to small meetings to discuss various critical policy initiatives ranging from civil rights to child care.”
Rabbi Moshe Sherer enjoyed a close relationship with the President, through which he was able to voice his concerns on Israel’s security.
“As the entire nation mourns, Agudath Israel expresses our deep condolences to his distinguished family. They should be comforted by the fact that they have admirably carried on the ideals of this great American leader and patriot.”
The Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America, said, “President Bush dedicated his professional life to the service of the United States and his personal life to building a remarkable family. Over his career, which spanned posts including CIA Director, UN Ambassador, Vice President and President, Mr. Bush was a key leader in shaping American foreign policy.”
The Orthodox Union also expressed their appreciation of President Bush’s support for the security of Israel as well as his role in rescuing thousands of Jews from the Soviet Union and Ethiopia.
Malcolm Hoenlein, Conference of Presidents Executive Vice Chairman and CEO of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, said that the President “maintained an open and welcoming relationship, even when there were areas of disagreement.”
“We worked closely with him in gaining freedom for Ethiopian Jews, Syrian Jews, as well as the rescue and absorption of the Jews of the former Soviet Union,” said Hoenlein. “Some of these intersessions dated back to his time as a US. Ambassador to the United Nations.
“The most contentious event with the Conference during his presidency involved the loan guarantees Israel sought for the resettlement of Russian Jews then exiting the Former Soviet Union. We organized a day of citizen advocates from across the country, which met with members of Congress to discuss the importance of this humanitarian measure, which the president opposed on grounds related to other issues in US-Israel relations. Following a meeting with a delegation in September, 1991, the President went public in a statement saying ‘I’m one lonely little guy facing…some powerful political forces’ made up of ‘a thousand lobbyists on the Hill,’ which gave rise to hostile and often bigoted reactions.
“Thereafter, the Conference was invited to meet with President Bush at the White House. Prior to the session, Conference Chairperson Shoshana Cardin and I were invited to a private meeting with the president and his key advisors. Mrs. Cardin told the president, ‘Mr. President, you are a fisherman. And you know that when you draw blood, the sharks come out. You drew blood, and the anti-Semites came out.’ She described some of the reaction that followed the president’s statement. Mr. Bush was taken aback and said, ‘I never realized the impact. I lived my whole life differently. I never would have done it,’ and went on to repeat similar comments and tears came to his eyes. Thereafter, he came out to the larger meeting of the Conference leadership and for a long time could not get off the subject, expressing regret. It was clear how impacted he was. We saw this humanity on other occasions, including when we came to the White House to arrange what became the Boshowitz mission to Ethiopia, which was critical to the rescue of Ethiopian Jews. He overruled his chief of staff, who had initially turned us down, even after we explained that there was a 48-hour window of opportunity to get the Jews out of Addis Ababa.
“During a reception at the vice-president’s residence at the Naval Observatory, just before he moved to the White House, the president-elect hosted a reception and it was clear he was uncomfortable making idle chatter with the guests. He quietly asked then COP Chairman Morris Abram and me to go to his den on the second floor, where he kicked off his shoes and just talked to us about the status of the world and very personal matters. In fact, he went picture by picture on the mantle to talk about his grandchildren and said to me in response to a question, ‘the thing I am most proud of in my life is that my children want to come home.’ A great lesson for all of us.”