It will be President Obama’s first State of the Union address in his second term and White House leakers are already promising an aggressive speech, designed to push Republicans ahead of the upcoming battle over budget sequestration cuts. It will also be a chance for Obama to outline a vision for his second term and to introduce two key issues which were largely ignored for four years: immigration reform and gun control.
Here are some of the Jewish issues you might want to look for in Tuesday night’s speech:
Guests: When camera’s cut to the balcony, take a good look at the invited guests and chances are you’ll see some Jewish faces. Each member is allowed to invite one guest to the speech and the First Lady traditionally invites several more. The idea is to bring to the event people whose life story demonstrates some of the themes in the President’s speech. This year, gun control is one of the key issues and among the guest will be many involved in the battle.
Democrats have invited families of Sandy Hook survivors and first-responders, as well as other key figures in the fight against gun violence. Republicans will have at least one pro-gun guest: musician and NRA member Ted Nugent. Former congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, who has recently emerged as the leading voice for gun control legislation, will be sitting in the gallery alongside her husband Mark Kelly. This week, Giffords released the first video ad for her gun control super-PAC. “Take it from me. Congress must act. Let’s get it done,” she said, facing the camera.
Other Jewish gun violence victims will also be in attendance. Senator Dianne Feinstein of California, a leading voice in the gun control debate, invited Joshua Stepakoff, who in 1999, was shot in the attack on the North Valley Jewish Community Center. Stepakoff, who was six at the time, was attending a summer camp at the JCC. He is now a student at California State University Northridge.
When I found myself having a long and enjoyable phone conversation with one of my daughter’s peers and former classmates, it was with a sense of genuine surprise and delight. But it was bittersweet as well.
I was speaking with Sami Rahamim of St Louis Park, Minn., who was in my daughter’s class at Heilicher Minneapolis Jewish Day School. He has become an advocate for gun-violence victims in the months since his father, Reuven Rahamim, was shot and killed along with five others at the business he founded on September 27, 2012, the day after Yom Kippur. The gunman was a disgruntled just-fired employee who later turned the gun on himself, authorities said.
Rahamim told me that on the day his father was shot, he was on a bus to the University of Wisconsin at Madison to see his then-girlfriend. When the bus arrived, his girlfriend and family friends who are students there, knew of his father’s fate but didn’t tell him until they drove halfway back to Minneapolis to meet up with Rabbi Avi Olitzky of Beth El Synagogue. Rabbi Olitzky also works as a chaplain with the Plymouth, Minn., police department doing notifications of death. But having to tell his congregant this news was difficult.
All the rabbi could muster about the occasion to say to a reporter was “It’s a tough one. There’s more silence than words and the silence speaks louder than the words.”
If the event was traumatic for the notifier, it was all the more so for the young man affected. In the weeks immediately after his father’s death, Rahamim says he was all but frozen.
“A while, for months, I couldn’t get through a single newspaper article, even sports, my mom couldn’t finish a crossword puzzle,” he said. “Stuff you normally do becomes more difficult.’”
The National Rifle Association compiled a list of its enemies and it reads like a Jewish who’s who list. The list, prepared by the NRA’s Institute for Legislative Action includes 506 individuals, organizations, media outlets and corporations that “have lent monetary, grassroots or some other type of direct support to anti-gun organizations.”
The groups listed by the NRA as enemies of the gun-rights cause could easily populate a Conference of Presidents meeting room. They include major Jewish national organizations, including the Anti Defamation League, American Jewish Committee, B’nai B’rith, and the Jewish Labor Committee; two major Jewish women organizations: Hadassah and National Council of Jewish Women; and the Central Conference of American Rabbis, which is the Reform movement’s rabbinical arm.
Reform Jews, the list suggests, are among the NRA’s worst adversaries. The list includes not only their national rabbinical group but also names specifically the Union for Reform Judaism’s former president Eric Yoffie and David Saperstein, director of the group’s Religious Action Center, as individuals fighting for gun control laws.
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