On Sept. 18, 1995, then-First Lady Hillary Clinton and Rabbi Prof. David Hartman each addressed the Jewish Federation’s Lion of Judah Conference in Washington, DC, a gathering of more than 1,000 women.
Rabbi Hartman, founder of the Shalom Hartman Institute, spoke of Israel and Zionism as the Jews of the world refusing to be written out of history. He said he supported the Israeli-Palestinian peace process under way at the time and said he was shocked when he heard that rabbis were opposed to it.
After he spoke, then-First Lady Hillary Clinton spent several minutes specifically speaking to Rabbi Hartman before launching into her speech. Clinton’s comments begin about 26 minutes into the video:
Rabbi, I have at least 3 thanks yous for you after listening to your remarks. The first is for imbuing my irrelevance to my daughter with spiritual meaning (laughter). I am so lucky to have a wonderful daughter, but those of us in the room who either currently have or have ever had teenagers know that despite one’s best efforts you cross that line into irrelevance. And you see it in their eyes. You see it in their moving back-and-forth, whether it’s Shabbat or it’s anything else with their saying this is great, but I’ve got better things to do.
Secondly, thank you for expressing I think for so many of us what is sometimes difficult to put into words. Talking about the spiritual dimension of one’s own personal life or the need for recognizing the spiritual importance in our collective lives is not easy, because there are many who have attempted to force spirituality into little tiny boxes, who have attempted to take religion and use it not as a way to welcome people into the fellowship of love, but to draw lines between us, and to be able to talk about this, I think is a very good way to start this conference. It’s so important and especially today. We do know there is a great hunger for meaning in our lives that goes beyond the material and a great desire amongst many of us to do what we can to create a spiritual center in the lives of our families and our communities, and it’s important to think of it not only in abstract theological terms but in the every day.
What is it we do every day in the way we treat one another in the way we respond to the quest for help, and the level of patience and kindness we show in our own efforts to quell the inevitable desire to control, to manipulate? Those are the kinds of daily questions that each of us should be asking, and to put it into that kind of format is very helpful for me personally.
And finally rabbi, thank you for saying what you said about the peace process. It is never easy to do (applause) what the leadership of your country is attempting to do. But as my husband has said, one of the great challenges we face – not only in the middle east but in many other parts of the world – is to have the courage to take risks for peace, and I join you in your words of support for what is being attempted and the importance that it holds not only for those of us who care about and support Israel, but for the entire human family.
This video of their presentations, unseen for years, was digitized from a videotape of the session provided to the Hartman Institute by longtime Board member Doug Wilansky.