The President’s CIA Speech and Jewish Culture

On his second day in office, President Trump visited the CIA and spoke to some 400 CIA employees. The speech was given in front of a Memorial Wall with 117 stars, one for each CIA member who had died attempting to keep this nation secure. The speech contained 2385 words, 715 of which or 30% was a self-serving, unabashed attack on the media.

Frankly, I do not think that any of the 16 Republican candidates that President defeated would have given such a speech at the CIA in front of the Memorial Wall. Even ultra conservatives should be appalled by his disrespectful behavior in front of the CIA Memorial Wall. I cannot as a rabbi imagine giving a eulogy or participating in a memorial service and making my remarks about “me” instead of those who in this case gave their lives to defend the security of this great nation.

My great Aunt Gertrude lost a son in Europe during WWII. This, plus my dad and uncle being veterans, had a significant impact on my life as I was growing up. I would be difficult for me to imagine an American president going to Normandy Beach and speaking about how large his crowds were or how large anything else of his is or is not!

Nor can I imagine an American president standing in front of the Vietnam Memorial in DC and speaking such narcissistic nonsense. No matter how one feels about what the Vietnam veterans or CIA veterans were doing when they died, they were doing what they were doing because our government asked them to do so.  Their sacrifice was the ultimate sacrifice a country can ask of a citizen.

What the President did yesterday at the CIA was insensitive, disrespectful and self-serving.  The fact that many Americans find nothing wrong with what he did shows that the soul of our nation is indeed sick.

I am not sure that it is relevant but I do know that we as Jews approach memorializing our dead, especially our martyrs and those who died in defense of freedom, with reverence and honor.  This is what we teach our children. This is who we are.

About the Author
Fred Guttman is the senior rabbi of Temple Emanuel in Greensboro, North Carolina. He has served on the Commission of Social Action for Reform Judaism. He has been recognized as one of the “50 Voices for Justice” by the URJ and by the Forward Magazine as one of “America’s Most Inspiring Rabbis.” In March 2015, he organized the National Jewish commemoration in Selma of the 50th Anniversary of the Bloody Sunday March.