To help repair the world is in the DNA of Jews, according to U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin, D – Md.
“Our upbringing and culture teach us to be concerned about the rest of human beings, to help correct the wrong, and to help repair the world,” Cardin told the Shabbat Chanukah crowd at Har Tzeon-Agudath Achim in Silver Spring, Maryland. “This is our Jewish value. This is in our DNA as a people.”
Maryland’s senior senator was the Shabbat scholar at the Traditional synagogue on University Boulevard in Silver Spring. He and his wife, Myrna, participated in the entire Shabbat service on Dec. 16 with about 150 members of the congregation. The senator gave a short speech and took part in a lengthy Q&A session, moderated by the synagogue’s Rabbi, Steven Suson.
In his speech, Cardin, the ranking member on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, affirmed the close relationship between the United States and Israel. He urged both the Jewish community and those who support Israel not to be distracted by other issues agitated by both the ultra-right and the ultra-left.
“We have to be singularly focused on keeping the close relationship between the United States and the state of Israel,” he said, “for we know that the United States is the only friend Israel can count on ultimately in the world.”
He was also vocal about human rights violations across the world, and vowed to always be at the forefront of condemning human rights abuses. “Elie Wiesel understood the terrible power of silence, the danger of not speaking out against evil,” Cardin said.
Cardin fielded questions from Rabbi Suson about the U.S.-Iran nuclear treaty implemented under the Obama administration, the recent U.S. recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, and the rising anti-Semitism in the United States and the world. Members of the congregation, including high school and college students, followed with their own questions.
Cardin said that even though he voted against the Iran deal, he would not support backing out of the treaty at this time. He did say, however, he would want to make sure that everything Iran does is “verifiable.”
“If we walk away from the treaty, we will lose our leverage, and Iran will most likely continue to develop its nuclear capability,” he said.
Regarding Jerusalem, Cardin said that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel and has been for decades. “It would have been much better had the administration used this opportunity to move the peace negotiations forward, but it didn’t,” he said.
One congregant asked why, despite the many things that Israel does to benefit the rest of the world, such as being among the first to help nations in crisis regardless of politics, ethnicity, and national origin, Israel seems to always be the bad guy on the world stage. Cardin said Israel lacks the resources to do a better job of public relations, and the United States must help publicize its ally’s many actions that help the rest of the world. The Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement has been co-opted by anti-Semitic movements, he said, and “[w]e must not allow people to turn international events into anti-Semitism and anti-Israeli activities,” he said.
Another congregant asked why Israel hasn’t chosen to withdraw from the United Nations, given the institution’s documented bias against the country. Cardin said the United Nations does “many good things remarkably well,” especially on humanitarian and food-security issues, and that the bias situation actually has become “much better” in the last decade.
“Under U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley, things have improved tremendously along the anti-Israel front at the United Nations,” he said, and Israel wants to be in the world body in order “to have a voice.”
Cardin’s appearance was the latest in a series of Shabbat scholar events at Har Tzeon-Agudath Achim. On Jan. 27, terrorism expert Mike Kraft will speak about U.S.-Israeli cooperation on counterterrorism, especially in the United States and in the Middle East.
By Frank Solomon
Frank Solomon is a member of Har Tzeon-Agudath Achim and lives in the Kemp Mill neighborhood of Silver Spring, Maryland.