and caption added by this
New York, September 30,
president discusses his faith at New Year
meeting with rabbis
By Matthew E. Berger
very tough with his friends, not
Sept. 30 (JTA) --
President Bush marked the
Jewish New Year by telling a roomful of
rabbis about his faith and how it helped
make him a better man.
Some 15 rabbis representing the three
main denominations spent an hour at the
White House on Monday discussing a range
of topics, including Iraq, the
Palestinian-Israeli conflict, poverty and
Rabbi Steven Pruzanski of
Teaneck, N.J., said Bush twice became
while discussing his recent trip to the
site of the Auschwitz
death camp and when he talked about how
people pray for him.
openly about his drinking problem of
years past, telling the rabbis that
faith played a role in his quitting. He
made the remarks in a discussion about
note: Did he mention the role played by
a pretzel in knocking him off a
Some of the rabbis described the
president as warm and engaging and said he
had a firm grasp on the issues.
"I was so impressed by the candor of
the president," said Rabbi Irving
Elson, a chaplain and commander in the
U.S. Navy. "He exuded confidence in his
love of America."
Elson said he told Bush that Jewish
servicemen support his efforts in Iraq.
"The message I was asked to bring was
'Stay the course,' " he said.
Rabbi Amy Schwartzman, of Falls
Church, Va., said she was disappointed
that more of the participants did not
challenge Bush on some of his policies,
although she said she was grateful for the
opportunity to meet with the
"I did feel I was sitting with a group
who was supportive of the president, who
came to praise the president and not to
challenge him," she said.
Schwartzman talked with the president
about the recently announced increase in
poverty in the United States, saying the
rising numbers were of great concern to
Jews. When Bush said new jobs would help
alleviate poverty, Schwartzman countered
that affordable childcare was also needed
to allow more working parents to pursue
"We had a dialogue," she said.
Rabbi Daniel Nevins, of
Farmington Hills, Mich., said he did not
feel it was his place to debate the
Bush told the rabbis that a new
Palestinian leadership would be judged on
the "simple formula" of its ability to
dismantle terrorist organizations and
fight terrorism. Until then, he
said,"everything's on hold."
reportedly made no mention of the "road
map" peace plan, co-authored by the
United States, United Nations, European
Union and Russia and which he has
pushed for more than a year.
Bush also said he
security fence Israel is erecting
in the West Bank, which the Palestinians
have called a land grab. But he said the
fence's route should not preclude later
territorial negotiations between Israel
and the Palestinians.
rabbis broached the subject of Jonathan
Pollard, left, a former
U.S. Navy intelligence analyst who is
serving a life sentence for spying on
behalf of Israel. Bush said he would look
into Pollard's case, but offered no
comment about the chances of him receiving
a presidential reprieve.
The White House sought out various
pulpit rabbis for the event, instead of
leaders of Jewish organizations. The
rabbinical organizations were asked to
submit names, and the White House selected
said Bush was straightforward. "He didn't
pander," he said.
dossier on the origins of
President Bush stops well-known wall