As Rabbi Amy Greenbaum was leaving the White House last week, after having met with President Barack Obama, she found herself quietly singing the Shema.
“At moments when I strongly feel God’s presence in my life, I sanctify those moments by singing the Shema,” she said. “Having both the religious freedom and the opportunity to meet with the president as a Jew, as a rabbi and as a mother, was truly a moment where I was aware of God’s presence in my life.”
Greenbaum, spiritual leader of Beth Israel Center, and religious school director at Beth El Congregation of the South Hills, was one of 19 leaders of the Conservative movement who met with Obama and White House Chief of Staff Jack Lew May 29 to discuss issues ranging from same sex-marriage to Iran.
Greenbaum was asked to attend the meeting by Rabbi Jack Moline, director of public policy for the Rabbinical Assembly. Moline has close ties with the Obama administration.
“Basically, the president and the chief of staff wanted to meet with Conservative rabbis and leaders across the country,” Greenbaum said. “The president spent 30 minutes with us. He was very mensch-like. He walked around and shook everyone’s hands, and then he took our questions.
Lew spent an hour with the group.
“I was impressed with his [Obama’s] intelligence, his warmth and his candor,” Greenbaum added. “I only wish everyone had the great privilege and opportunity to sit across from him in the way that I did.”
Although “the ground rules of the meeting” prohibited Greenbaum from repeating specifically what the president said on the topics discussed, she stressed that she was “impressed by the president’s knowledge of and interest in Judaism, and his commitment to Israel.”
The subjects discussed in the question/answer format included Israel, Iran, the economy, immigration, same-sex marriage and the environment.
The other attendees at the meeting were: Rabbi Bruce Dollin; Rabbi Ed Farber; Rabbi Jeffrey A. Wohlberg; Rabbi Debra Newman Kamin; Rabbi Daniel Greyber; Rabbi Danielle Upbin; Rabbi David M. Ackerman; Rabbi Harold Berman; Abby Joseph Cohen; Dr. Arnold Martin Eisen; Marc Gary; Rabbi Luis Felipe Goodman; Rabbi Joseph Howard Krakoff; Rabbi Andrea L. Merow; Rabbi Jack L. Moline; Rabbi Danny S. Nevins; Rabbi Julie Schonfeld; Rabbi Steven Curtis Wernick; Richard Skolnik; and Rabbi Eric S Yanoff.
(Toby Tabachnick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)