Rabbi Felipe Goodman has been a guest at the White House twice before, but his most recent visit was one for the scrapbook.
And, for that, thank an unexpected visit from President Barack Obama.
During the past two years, Goodman, of Temple Beth Sholom, 10700 Havenwood Lane, has been to the White House twice as a member of multidenominational groups. His most recent visit, on May 29, was as part of a delegation of more than a dozen rabbis and lay leaders of Judaism’s Conservative movement.
Their purpose: To meet with White House Chief of Staff Jack Lew to discuss security for Israel, Iran and its race to acquire nuclear weapons, and other issues of importance to the Jewish community.
The group was doing just that when the door behind Goodman – who happened to be sitting at the end of the table – opened and Obama walked in.
“Like, you’re already in the West Wing and you’re already in the Roosevelt Room and you’re already wondering why you’re sitting there,” Goodman said with a laugh. “Then, all of a sudden, (Obama) just walks in right behind you.
“It was unbelievable. I turned and I got up, and he came to shake my hand, and then he walked around the room and shook everybody’s hand. Then he sat down and we started talking.”
News reports about the informal meeting said Obama thanked the rabbis for their work in improving their communities, and that the group then discussed such issues as U.S. foreign policy toward Israel and sanctions against Iran.
“I can’t quote what he said,” Goodman said, but “it was a really good meeting. That’s what I could tell you. I walked out of the meeting with the sense of knowing that Israel is not alone.
“I believe that within the Jewish community is a lot of talk about whether he is really supporting Israel or whether he’s not, and I think he’s really trying hard to get that conversation going and trying to dispel any doubt about whether he’s supportive about Israel.”
While support for Obama does remain strong within the Jewish community – two recent polls place his support among Jewish voters at 61 percent and 62 percent – his numbers currently are below the 78 percent Jewish vote he received in the 2008 presidential election.
Given that, could Obama’s surprise drop-in have been merely a pre-planned bit of politicking?
Goodman does note that the group did include rabbis from such political battleground states as Florida, Ohio, Nevada and Pennsylvania.
According to a CNN analysis released last week, Ohio, Nevada and Florida currently are considered toss-up states in November, while Pennsylvania is considered to be leaning toward Obama.
However, Goodman continued, “I know the rabbis in that room … and they didn’t select rabbis who were clearly aligned with the ideas of the administration. These were clearly rabbis who were selected because they are leaders in our movement.”
Goodman noted that “not only the country, but my congregation is very divided politically, so anything I say is immediately taken to be a political statement, and, sometimes, there’s no politics involved.”
Goodman said that, because he was not born in this country – he was born in Mexico and became a U.S. citizen several years ago – “I have, sometimes, a little bit of a different perspective than other people do.”
So, he views the meeting “in terms of not from the right or from the left, but as wanting to listen to the vision of what America is trying to do to support the values that I believe in when it comes to foreign policy.”
On a more personal level, “I was struck by the personality of the president,” Goodman said.
Obama’s is “a magnetic personality,” Goodman said. “I found him to be very direct and I found him to be speaking from his heart in everything he said.”
Contact reporter John Przybys at jprzybys@review journal.com or 702-383-0280.