Unexpected Prayer

In latest of several Jewish appearances, Vice President caught off guard by Pollard plea at Orthodox Union dinner.

June 31, 1998 - The New York Jewish Week - Adam Dickter

For the second time in a month, Vice President Albert Gore spoke before a major Orthodox organization Sunday and sharply defended his administration's Israel policy.

"Our special relationship with Israel is unshakable, ironclad, eternal and absolute," said Gore, the keynote speaker at the Orthodox Union's Centennial Dinner Sunday night at Manhattan's Grand Hyatt Hotel. "Anyone, in any corner, who believes ... the special relationship [between the United States and Israel] is in jeopardy should think again."

Gore's remarks on tensions between the two countries over the stalled Mideast peace process were nearly identical to those made at Agudath Israel of America's dinner on May 17.

At both dinners, Gore had been forewarned by the organizations that strong statements against United States pressure on Israel would be included in introductory speeches. But at the Orthodox Union dinner, the vice president was caught off guard by an impromptu plea on behalf of convicted spy Jonathan Pollard by OU President Mandell Ganchrow.

"Allow me to deviate from my prepared remarks [to] beseech you, Mr. Vice President, to convey to President Clinton the prayers of the assembled people here tonight, and those we represent, that he speedily free Jonathan Pollard on humanitarian grounds," said Ganchrow.

Seated to Ganchrow's immediate left, the vice president, who often jokes about his own reputation for stiffness, appeared to become more solemn than usual. The smile disappeared from his face and he barely moved until it was his turn at the podium.

Gore also ceased joining in the audience's applause when Ganchrow mentioned the controversial Har Homa Jewish housing project in East Jerusalem, which the State Department opposes.

Gore, who is almost certain to be his party's nominee for president in 2000, appears to be carefully cultivating his image in the Jewish community. His addresses to the OU and Agudah dinners come on the heels of a trip to Israel last month for jubilee celebrations and his Washington address at the annual policy conference of the America Israel Political Affairs Committee in mid-May.

But Gore had no reply to Ganchrow's comments, which brought thunderous applause from the audience, when he delivered his prepared address. In a speech peppered with properly pronounced Hebrew terms, he warmly praised the OU, on the precise centennial eve of its founding, for expanding and strengthening religious freedom in America.

"You are men and women of such profound religious commitment, who affirm their deep religious beliefs and by that very affirmation, urge America onward in practicing and perfecting our own deep convictions," he said.

"Many Orthodox Jews, arriving in America were led to believe Orthodoxy was somehow un-American," he continued. "There are those, I am told who threw their tallit, their siddur and their tefillin over the side of the boat as they arrived at Ellis Island."

Recalling that on June 8, 1898, Rabbi Henry Pereira Mendes convened 47 synagogue leaders in New York to found the OU, he said the organization's goal was to "transmit Jewish heritage to the next generation. They knew that to make Orthodoxy take root they had to cultivate the ground."

Gore was awarded the OU's National Humanitarian Award for commitment to "the safety and welfare of the American Jewish community, Soviet Jewry and the security and safety of the State of Israel," said Ganchrow. Among other speakers was New York's senior senator, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, who sounded a warning about the ramifications of Pakistan's development of what he has called "an Islamic [nuclear] bomb."

"How long will it take for this bomb to reach the Middle East?" he asked. "[Pakistani] government-inspired rumors made their way into the press that -- get this -- Israeli aircraft were already in India preparing a joint atomic strike on Pakistan. ... Once again Israel and the United States stand together."

In an interview the following day, Ganchrow said that, although the Pollard remarks were not among those provided to the vice president's staff prior to the dinner, he did not expect that Gore was surprised, since Ganchrow had mentioned Pollard on previous occasions "as a friend."...