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President Obama's Visit to a Reform Synagogue in Dallas

President Obama's Visit to a Reform Synagogue in Dallas

[Editor's Note: On November 6, President Obama spoke on health care reform and the Affordable Care Act at Reform Temple Emanu-El of Dallas, highlighting the important work done by Dallas area interfaith and faith-based organizations on health insurance education and enrollment.]

The day dawned like many for Rabbi David Stern of Temple Emanu-El, with thoughts focused on his popular Wednesday morning Talmud class as he pulled into the parking lot. Six on-camera appearances on morning television and one radio interview later, he made it to class. On time.

Because not even a surprise visit by President Obama later that day would interfere with Talmud class. And that fact is perhaps the most important thing about today, this exciting day in our 141-year history: the way we conduct our day here is rooted in the lessons of Torah and Talmud, whether it is in antiquity, or in 2013 against a backdrop of morning television news shows on a slow news day.

With Texas having the highest percentage of uninsured people in the nation, at 23 percent, and Dallas being one of the most uninsured in Texas, the efforts of a multi-ethnic, multi-faith coalition called Dallas Area Interfaith caught the eye of the President. The visit was organized through the office of Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins and invitations were delivered by the White House.

The group of more than 90,000 members in 40 congregations and nonprofit organizations, of which Temple Emanu-El is actively involved, has been immersed in educating the public about the Affordable Care Act. On Oct. 17, Temple had held an organizing event that drew more than 300 people to learn about education and access to the legislation. The group is working throughout the city to train and ultimately help enroll people for insurance by the December 15 deadline and beyond.

Throughout the day, all staff members were involved with the visit, from working with the White House advance team to temporary relocations to fielding calls to welcoming the fleet of news trucks that descended upon the building. (Rabbis Asher Knight and David Stern ultimately did 15 advance interviews with newspapers, radio and television.)

The question repeatedly asked by news media to Temple rabbis was: “Is Temple excited?”

“Yes, of course it is. But it’s just another day in the sacred work we’ve been doing day in and day out with our partners,” said Rabbi Asher Knight. “We recognize that the world as it is, is not how it ought to be, that we have a sacred responsibility to work hand in hand across faiths, across neighborhoods, to really help educate ourselves about  what’s possible in terms of making our society a healthier place to live.”

For Temple, Wednesday didn’t just happen. It was the latest in a legacy of social justice that began in the late 19th century. From helping to lower infant mortality rates to growing vegetables for a food pantry to creating a clearinghouse for durable medical equipment to guiding people to accessible health care, Temple has never let up in its imperative to make the world a better place.

And that feels pretty darn good.

Connie Dufner is the Communications Director of Temple Emanu-El of Dallas in Dallas, TX. This post originally appeared at the Temple Emanu-El Blog. You can watch a video of President Obama's remarks from Politico.com.

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