Mayor Barkat, Chairman Sharansky, President Panken, Dean Kelman, and to all the faculty, staff and students of the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, and to representatives of the Union of Reform Judaism, it is a great honor to join you tonight.
Thank you for the generous invitation to join this historic gathering, which I am pleased to attend together with my wife Julie Fisher.
On behalf of President Obama, Vice President Biden, and Secretary of State Kerry, I have come tonight to salute HUC-JIR.
I have come to salute you as builders. For decades you have enriched this city, this country, and the broader region through your good works and through this oasis of learning, knowledge, and tolerance. You were among the first American institutions to build and your investment has paid off in spades.
“Anu banu artza livnot u'lehibanot ba,” goes the Zionist mantra, “we have come to the land to build and to be rebuilt by it.” You understood long ago that by building a physical presence in Israel, in Jerusalem, it would do more than just provide shelter for study—it would help define and strengthen your movement.
Now, with the generosity of the Taube Family, you are building yet again. May this new project also lead you to be built anew and may it provide this institution with even more opportunities to deepen the special bonds between Americans and Israelis.
I have also come tonight to salute HUC-JIR for its values. As I said here not too long ago, you are a beacon of tolerance, pluralism, and the pursuit of Tikkun Olam—and you are a leading agent in promoting personal ties with Israel.
It is no secret that I chose to spend a semester here in Israel after high school and this Movement was the sponsor. Thirteen King David Street was my home address. Despite the noise of construction—you were building even then—what I remember most are the lessons.
The values that animate this institution are the same values that motivate the work of me and my colleagues at the U.S. Embassy.
We strive to strengthen the connection between the American and Israeli peoples; we continue to seek peace and security through the pursuit of a “two states for two peoples” outcome; we promote respect for people of all backgrounds, and all faiths; and we embrace diversity and coexistence and tolerance and pluralism as signs of strength in democratic societies.
Third, and no less important, I also want to salute HUC-JIR for our partnership. This year we are working together to promote co-existence and a shared society. Through the “This is Jerusalem-Teachers’ Room” program, we are bringing together a diverse group of local educators and will introduce teaching models that aim to break down stereotypes.
The program draws inspiration from the horrific murder last year of Shira Banki and we are proud to be working with this institution, and with the Banki family, to further Shira’s legacy in impactful and meaningful ways.
Again, let me congratulate HUC-JIR. May you continue to grow from strength to strength, and may this new and improved home in Israel continue to serve as a model of openness, accessibility, and tolerance. Mazal tov!