Obama, We are "'God's partners in matters of life and death"

by Adam Kredohttp://washingtonjewishweek.com/main.asp?SectionID=57&SubSectionID=76&ArticleID=11291 President Barack Obama needs some outside help pushing health care reform, and he's turning to rabbis to get it.

In a morning conference call with about 1000 rabbis from across the nation, Obama asked for aid: "I am going to need your help in accomplishing necessary reform," the President told the group, according to Rabbi Jack Moline, who tweeted his way through the phoner.

"We are God's partners in matters of life and death," Obama went on to say, according to Moline's real-time stream.

The 15-minute morning briefing was sponsored by the Religion Action Center of Reform Judaism, and included rabbis of all persuasions. Although the RAC hosts the call each year, participants had never before heard from a sitting president.

What stood out about the call is that Obama "is a master communicator," Moline, the rabbi of the Conservative Agudas Achim Congregation in Alexandria, said in an interview after the call ended.

"This was clearly a message that was tailored to us," and not merely a generic stump speech, he added.

Moline noted that in the lead up to the president's address, as the rabbis waited on hold, "there was a lot of chatter" among some participants who felt that the call should be seen as an opportunity "to instruct the President about [Presidential Medal of Freedom selection] Mary Robinson" and about the peace process in the Middle East.

"It was the subject of a good deal of conversation whether anyone was going to challenge him on that," in particular Rabbi Eric Yoffie, the president of the Union of Reform Judaism, whose has publicly chided Obama for his administration's stance on settlements.

When the issues failed to come up during the health care call, Moline pithily tweeted: "Yoffie praises President and does not raise any other issue. Good for him."

"Rabbi Yoffie stuck to the subject" of health care reform, Moline said in the interview, "I think it was a good thing."

Eyebrows were also raised by the choice of hold music that played to rabbis before the call began.

"First mistake," Moline tweeted, as he waited for the call to begin. "Music on hold is 'Deutschland uber Alles,' " a classical German anthem, the lyrics to which in part say, "Preserve and protect our Kaiser, our land."

(The music was chosen by the company carrying the conference call, not the White House or the RAC.)

A questioned submitted by Moline also was asked to the President, the rabbi proudly noted on Twitter, writing, "WOW! My question was asked of the President!!!!!"

The question, he later explained, was about how rabbis can address issue of health care reform "in a non partisan" way when they're behind the pulpit.

Obama responded by noting that the massive "human toll" of a broken health care system is a non partisan issue, and simply is unacceptable, Moline recalled.

The call, which was closed to the media, precedes another Obama phoner that is to take place at 5 p.m. this evening (Wednesday).