Having just attended U.S. President Donald Trump’s Hanukkah celebration, I decided to pay tribute to Robert (Bob) Jacobs, a man who ranks as one of the top Jewish activists of all time. Without even knowing it, he had a tremendous effect on my life (and on the lives of many others as well), as well as on my involvement in Jewish causes. Although he did not personally bring about the first Hanukkah party at the White House, his energy and activism undoubtedly had an effect.
The first official White House Hanukkah party was hosted by U.S. President George W. Bush in 200, not long after the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon. Although other presidents participated in menorah Lightings, none had hosted an official Hanukkah event. Bush said at the time that the White House is a “temporary home” for him and his wife, Laura, but that “it’s the people’s house,” and “it belongs to people of all faiths.”
This tradition has continued to the present time. Trump’s Hanukkah parties have been spectacular and historic events.
Even before AIPAC was founded in 1963, Jacobs was on the scene developing relationships with such notables as Sen. Henry “Scoop” Jackson of Washington, Sen. Frank Church of Idaho, Congressman Jack Murphy of Staten Island, Congressman Ben Gilman of Rockland County and Congressman Guy Molinari of Staten Island. These relationships were deep and intense.
For example, he urged Molinari, whom he helped bring to the Young Israel of Staten Island, to become more involved on behalf of Israel and to fight for Soviet Jewry. And he later became heavily involved in NORPAC (Northern Jersey Political Action Committee).
He is best known for his bringing about the total transformation of North Carolina Senator Jesse Helms from anti-Semite to one of the Jewish people’s greatest friends. Helms served in the Senate from 1973 to 2003. He chaired the Senate Foreign Relations Committee from 1995 to 2001. He passed away in 2008.
Helms started out as a staunch opponent of the State of Israel. In 1982, when Israel invaded Lebanon to eradicate the Palestine Liberation Organization and counter Syria’s takeover of the country, he advocated “shutting down” relations with Israel.
Former AIPAC executive director Morris Amitay called Helms’s transformation, thanks mainly to Jacobs, “a complete switch.”
After the metamorphosis, Helms became Israel’s greatest ally in the Senate. He stood up to Secretary of State James Baker, opposing the latter’s attempt to link billions of dollars in U.S. loan guarantees to Israel’s “settlement” policies in Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip.
In 1990, Helms signed a resolution declaring Jerusalem the “eternal undivided capital of Israel,” and in 1995, he called for the U.S. to move its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Of course, it was Trump who made good on his wishes.
Helms held PLO chief Yasser Arafat accountable for the group’s terrorist activities, threatened to cut off aid to the Palestinian Authority if it declared statehood unilaterally and criticized the United Nations for its anti-Israel animus.
In a letter to Gilman, Helms wrote: “There are voices who insist that it is incumbent upon the State of Israel to make all the sacrifices for peace. Do not count us among such people.”
It is truly amazing what one man can achieve. Jacobs and his family are true modern Maccabees.
Dr. Joseph Frager is first vice president of the National Council of Young Israel.
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