On the Hill, Peres a focus of Jewish Heritage Month

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Members of Congress, rabbis and social activists crowded into the U.S. Capitol May 7 to celebrate the ninth-annual Jewish American Heritage Month by calling on the House of Representatives to vote in support of Israeli President Shimon Peres receiving the Congressional Gold Medal.

“There have been very few who have done more to preserve the freedom of their people,” declared Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.). Noting that Peres has held so many positions of authority in the government, McCain called Peres a leader for prosperity, for defense and for peace.


“It’s difficult to understand how someone who has seen so much can still place such faith in dreams,” said McCain, calling Peres “one of Israel’s most distinguished sons.”

Sen. Bill Nelson (D.-Fla.) told the audience of about 100 people that honoring Peres, which his chamber did by a unanimous vote, was done “to affirm that the Congress stands shoulder to shoulder with the land of Israel, both past, present.”

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The House has yet to bring the matter to the floor for a vote.

Greg Rosenbaum, co-chair of Jewish American Heritage Month, said he was “confident” the House would vote in favor of Peres receiving the medal but until it does, the honor cannot be bestowed.


Peres is scheduled to visit the United States in June, about a month before his term as president ends.

The theme of this year’s heritage month is Jews and tikkun olam, and several leading activists were honored at last week’s event, including Joseph Kanter, a World War II veteran whose foundation works to improve patient care and education.

Lesley Weiss, who was appointed by President Barack Obama to chair the U.S. Commission for the Preservation of America’s Heritage Abroad, also was honored. She explained that her commission identifies cemeteries and other monuments destroyed during World War II and works with 29 Eastern and Central European countries to get them restored.

“We need to save something that will speak to our rich Jewish heritage,” she said.

Another honoree, Sanford Rubenstein, spoke of his fight against civil rights abuses since the 1960s.

He plans to lead a march on Mississippi this summer to “preserve the voting rights of every American.”

Also during the two-hour event, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) explained why he is working to have foreign aid to the Palestinians cut.

“I think it’s a debate we should have,” he said. “I plan on continuing with this. I don’t want our money to go to a government that includes Hamas, which calls for the destruction of Israel,” he said to a smattering of applause.

“Absolutely I am a friend of Israel,” he said, adding that not all friends “are identical and of the same opinion. Do all Jews have the same exact opinion of Israel?” he asked, pointing out that AIPAC is fighting against his proposed cuts.

Other politicians who spoke during the gathering were Sens. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) and Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), and Reps. Bruce Braley (D-Iowa), Joseph Kennedy (D-Mass.), Ed Royce (R-Calif.), Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) and Debbie Wasserman-Schultz (D-Fla.).

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