During his remarks on February 4 to the National Prayer Breakfast, US President Barack Obama gave numerous examples of faith communities that are working together to bring relief to natural disaster zones, to care for the sick, and to welcome refugees.
“When Syrian refugees seek the sanctuary of our shores, it’s the faithful from synagogues, mosques, temples, and churches who welcome them, the first to offer blankets and food and open their homes,” Obama said to the gathering that was organized by a Christian group and drew many prominent US lawmakers and other influential people.
A wide variety of Jewish groups have backed the White House in its call to reject the appeals from Republican presidential candidates to stop Syrian refugees from coming to the US.
Obama spent some time remembering the heroism of Sgt. Roddie Edmonds, a POW who during WWII refused to reveal to a German commander which troops under his command were Jewish. Last week, Obama had spoken at an event at the Israeli Embassy in Washington, where Edmonds, along with three others, was named as righteous among the nations by Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust museum.
When the German commanders asked Edmonds to bring out the Jews, Edmond then ordered his troops to fall out.
“The Nazi colonel said, ‘I asked only for the Jewish POWs,’ and said, ‘These can’t all be Jewish.’” Obama said. “And Master Sergeant Edmonds stood there and said, ‘We are all Jews.’ And the colonel took out his pistol and held it to the Master Sergeant’s head and said, ‘Tell me who the Jews are.’ And he repeated, ‘We are all Jews.’”
Obama then went on to describe a meeting that he had with Rami Nashashibi, a Muslim in Chicago, the day after the San Bernardino shooting, where militant Islamic terrorist shot 14 people back in December, whether or not it was safe to pray while watching his daughter play on the playground.
“And he thought of all the times he had told her the story of the day that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and Rabbi Robert Marx, and 700 other people marched to that very same park, enduring hatred and bigotry, dodging rocks and bottles, and hateful words, in order to challenge Chicago housing segregation, and to ask America to live up to our highest ideals,” Obama said. Nashashibi put out his prayer rug and prayed.
Back in 1966, Marx, who was the director of the Chicago Jewish Federation, wrote an anguished letter to his Jewish constituents that described why he felt the need to march with King through a Chicago neighborhood that was violently resisting integration.
“I can’t imagine a moment in which that young American sergeant expressed his Christianity more profoundly than when, confronted by his own death, he said ‘We are all Jews,’” Obama said to applause. “I can’t imagine a clearer expression of Jesus’s teachings. I can’t imagine a better expression of the peaceful spirit of Islam than when a Muslim father, filled with fear, drew from the example of a Baptist preacher and a Jewish rabbi to teach his children what God demands.”