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For Immediate Release
Office of the First Lady
October 18, 2004
Mrs. Bush's Remarks to the International Lion of Judah Conference
Washington Hilton Hotel
1:08 P.M. EDT
MRS. BUSH: I always like being introduced by somebody who has the same accent I do. (Laughter.) Thank you very much, Esther. Thank you for your kind words, and thank each and every one of you for the very warm welcome. And special thanks to Susie Stern, to Sandy Cahn, and to Janice Stolar, and Michele Rosen for organizing this impressive gathering of women. And thanks to Mark Wilf for his leadership of the United Jewish Communities.
I'm happy to be a part of this dialogue -- and, standing backstage, I realized this really is a dialogue. (Laughter and applause.) And to be here with so many smart, savvy, powerful women. You have to wonder what the guys are doing without us right now. (Applause.)
As prominent women in business and philanthropy and public life, I imagine that all of us have been subject to a few stereotypes. I was reminded of that recently when I received some letters from a group of kindergarten students. Their teacher had asked them to write about what they thought my responsibilities were every day.
A little girl named Shelby wrote that I "help the President with his paperwork and then help him clean his office." (Laughter.) "I take care of him when he's sick and put cold cloths on his head." I didn't have to say that was only after the first debate. (Laughter.)
But Shelby wasn't the only child to be concerned about the President's health. Megan said that as First Lady, "I feed the dogs and I plant the daffodils and I do the President's speeches when he isn't feeling well."
On the other hand, Todd -- who seems to have an eye for fashion -- thinks that there's more manual labor involved in my job. He wrote that I "wear pretty suits and I shovel the snow and feed the birds." (Laughter.)
Of course, what I really get to do are events like this, where I get to meet remarkable Americans who are changing our world. President Bush and I appreciate all that you do to make a difference in your communities and our country. The sisterhood of the Lion of Judah is one of the most influential groups in philanthropy. You teach us that although one person alone can't do everything, 1,400 strong can do anything. (Applause.) And you show the world exactly what women can achieve with faith, with hard work, and a whole lot of chutzpah! (Laughter and applause.)
This year, all of America commemorates the rich history of the Jewish people and the many contributions Jewish Americans have made in shaping our nation. Three hundred and fifty years ago, Jewish families first arrived in our young country. Many of these early settlers were women. And as they established new homes, they also established a community rich in the traditions of their faith. They embraced their new freedoms, but they never forgot their heritage.
We've all benefited from the women who blazed a trail before us. Women like Rebecca Gratz, who established the first Hebrew Sunday School, which was run entirely by women. She devoted her entire adult life to the under-privileged of Philadelphia, especially to the women and children. Or author Emma Lazarus, who wrote powerful essays arguing against anti-Semitism and for the rights of immigrants. Her words -- "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free" -? have become America's call to those seeking freedom from around the world.
And Emma inspired women leaders like Henrietta Szold, the founder of Hadassah, which remains the first and the largest women's Zionist organization. And women like Sally Preisand, who despite her classmates' claims that she was studying to become the wife of a rabbi, went on to become the first woman rabbi in America. While Shoshana Cardin went from being president of her Zionist youth group to being the first woman to head the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. (Applause.) She summed up her success this way -? "I didn't do it because I thought that's what women did; I did it because that was where I thought I could make a difference."
Generations of strong Jewish women have made a difference for all Americans and for all women. And today, the Lions of Judah continue that legacy. We're inspired by Lions like Joan Beren, who's been a part of United Jewish Communities for nearly 50 years. (Applause.) As the first woman President of the Mid-Kansas Jewish Federation, Joan has led efforts to register women voters and to ensure that women have a voice in politics. And like Henrietta Szold and generations of her ancestors, Joan helps Russian immigrants settle in America. She finds apartments and jobs for families in Kansas and she takes them to the dentist and the grocery store. She has become the first and most enduring friend to countless new Americans.
Service is nothing new for Joan. Some of her earliest memories are of sharing her home with refugees from the Holocaust. And throughout her life, Joan has done everything she can to help repair the world. Joan says, "I live my life by the saying, 'From those to whom much is given, much is expected.'" And I think it must be the same for each and every one of you in this room. Joan, thank you for all you do to strengthen our nation. (Applause.)
Empowered women are vital to democracy. And this is even clearer to all of us today as we look around the world and we see what happens in countries where half of the population is left out. The struggle for human rights is a story of ordinary people doing extraordinary things. And today, I'm proud that the women of Afghanistan are writing an exciting new chapter in their long struggle.
Just a few years ago in Afghanistan, women weren't allowed to even walk outside their doors without a male escort, and they were beaten and executed in sports stadiums. They couldn't work outside the home, and little girls in Afghanistan were forbidden to be educated. Today, Afghan women are working again as teachers, as lawyers, as businesswomen. Women head two cabinet posts, and many more serve throughout government. Several women helped draft the country's constitution, which is one of the most progressive documents on women's rights in the Muslim world.
I'm proud that nearly 5 million Afghan children, including more than 2 million girls, are in school. And now they talk about their future, and about rebuilding their country. One young girl said, "I want to become a lawyer, because I want to bring justice and freedom to Afghanistan, especially for women."
And just last week, millions of Afghans voted in the first free presidential election in the history of their country. And they achieved this milestone even after so many critics said that Afghanistan couldn't have free elections, because it would be inconsistent with their history. But they proved the critics wrong. Voters lined up at three o'clock in the morning. And in one part of the country where a bridge was blown up by terrorists, people found a ford to cross the river so they could vote. A woman cast the very first ballot. Nineteen-year-old Moqadasa Sidiqi said, "I cannot explain my feelings, just how happy I am. I would have never thought I would be able to vote in an election."
The people of Afghanistan showed the world that democracy can flourish anywhere when people are given the chance to be free.
The Afghan people still face many challenges in strengthening their young democracy. But Afghan women are making great progress in exercising their freedoms. And the women of Afghanistan can be an inspiration to women in other parts of the world. In Iraq, after three decades of brutal dictatorship where women were punished with rape and torture, women are participating in the reconstruction of their country. Three women helped draft the Transitional Administrative Law that is a model for women's rights. During the signing of their interim law, Iraqi women marched together and many spoke publicly for the first time after years of oppression. Six women ministers serve in the Cabinet and nearly 100 women serve in Iraq's national police force. Several Iraqi women are also among the first Fulbright students to study in the United States in 14 years.
We'll continue to help the women of Iraq in securing their rights and rebuilding their country. The presence of a democratic, stable Iraq at the heart of the Middle East will be a powerful beacon for freedom, an example of hope in that vital region. (Applause.) Our work is part of a broader effort to support women across the Middle East. We know that without women, the goals of democracy and peace cannot be achieved.
Freedom is also at the heart of the President's approach to bringing peace between Israel and the Palestinian people. My husband is strongly committed to the security of Israel as a vibrant Jewish state. (Applause.) Our first visit to Israel in 1998 left a deep and lasting impression on both George and me. Israel is not only a land of rich history and faith, but also one where people of all races and creeds live together in a diverse democracy. During a helicopter ride above the country, the President saw firsthand how precarious Israel's security situation is. And that's why President Bush has been so supportive of Israel's right to defend itself. (Applause.)
We want to help the Palestinian people establish a democratic and viable state of their own. But before there can be two states, all parties must renounce violence and fight terrorism. (Applause.) Terrorists are the enemy of freedom. And they seek to destroy more than our institutions of democracy and freedom, like our schools or places of worship. They want to destroy our very way of life. We see this in Iraq where the terrorists attack young men and women who are hoping to sign up for the police force. We see this in Russia, where they kill innocent school children to make a political point. And we see this in Israel, where Israelis are attacked in pizza parlors, on buses on their way to work, or while shopping in supermarkets. And we saw this on a quiet September morning when terrorists attacked Americans at work in cities that have always symbolized freedom.
Like fascists and totalitarians before them, terrorists try to impose their radical views through threats and violence. The Jewish people know too well the devastation of such hatred. My father also knew this devastation -- he saw it firsthand. He served in World War II for three years in Europe, and his Army Company -? the 104th Infantry, helped to liberate Nordhausen, a concentration camp. (Applause.) My father is no longer living, but I used to ask him about that time, and he couldn't bear to tell me about it. I think in retrospect, he couldn't bear to tell his precious child that there is evil in the world.
There's much we know about the Holocaust, but when President Bush and I visited Auschwitz last summer, I realized there are things textbooks can't teach. They can't teach you how to feel when you see prayer shawls or baby shoes left by children being torn from their mothers, or prison cells with the scratch marks of attempted escape. But what moved me the most were the thousands of eyeglasses, their lenses still smudged with tears and dirt. It struck me how vulnerable we are as humans, how many needed those glasses to see, and how many people living around the camps and around the world refused to see. We see today and we know what happened and we'll never forget. (Applause.)
We set aside a day each year at the United States Capitol to remember the Holocaust and to honor those who lost their lives, and to pray for the survivors, to keep their memories alive. On this day, and everyday, we must also renew our efforts to destroy anti-Semitism wherever it exists. (Applause.)
When the World Conference on Racism in Durban, South Africa became a theater for anti-Semitic expression, President Bush ordered the United States delegation to walk out in protest, and I'm glad he did. (Applause.) He also sent a delegation led by former Mayor Koch to a conference on anti-Semitism sponsored by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. The United States was instrumental in negotiating a strong statement condemning anti-Semitism and promoting practical ideas to fight it.
And just two days ago, on Saturday morning, the President signed the Global Anti-Semitism Review Act of 2004. (Applause.) This law commits our government to keep a record of anti-Semitic acts throughout the world, and also a record of the responses to those acts. It establishes a new office and a special envoy in the State Department to do just this. President Bush will make sure that our nation keeps watch, and that the ancient impulse of anti-Semitism never again finds a home in the modern world. (Applause.)
We know that hatred prepares the way for violence, and that is why President Bush is committed to defeating terror and spreading freedom. My husband believes that together we can build a safer and stronger world where all of our children and grandchildren can grow up in peace.
We too can contribute to the spread of liberty by teaching our children tolerance and respect for all people. We must teach them that hate is always wrong, and life is valuable. Through education, we can engage the fortitude of the next generation. And we'll ensure that our own children and all the world's children have a better chance of living in peace.
Women are vital to the struggle for freedom and the preservation of peace. Each of you demonstrates your power as mothers, as community leaders, as activists -? and also as women. And like your ancestors, your greatest power is the ability to inspire a new generation of women and girls. (Applause.) Joan Beren's daughters, Amy and Julie, like to joke that they were born with UJC pledge cards in their hands. (Laughter.) Throughout their lives, they've been inspired by their mother's commitment to her community and her faith. Today, Amy is the first woman president of her synagogue and Julie is the major gifts chair for the Jewish Federation of greater Los Angeles. (Applause.)
They both support education programs for children in their communities, and both support their own children's aspirations to help others. Julie said, "My children understand that service is their responsibility. We all have a responsibility to care for one another. My life has been blessed and I am so lucky to be in the position to give back." Julie, thanks to you, your sister, and your mother for inspiring the next generation of Lions. (Applause.)
And thanks to each one of you for inspiring women around the world -? especially younger women like my own daughters. You should be incredibly proud of the work you've accomplished, the network you've built, and the legacy you've sustained. I'm reminded of the Hebrew saying, "Know before whom you stand." In all that you do, you stand before your family, your community, and before God. And through acts of faith and love, you stand up for freedom, and for a better world for all of God's people. Thank you all very, very much. Thank you so much.