US President Donald Trump’s State of the Union address on Tuesday night contained several highly resonant moments for the Jewish community, on an emotional scale ranging from tragedy to triumph.
Three months after the killing of 11 Jewish worshipers at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life Synagogue by a neo-Nazi gunman, the commemoration of that atrocity was central to the president’s remarks. Watching Trump from the gallery in the House of Representatives as honored guests were a police officer who was seriously wounded in an exchange of fire with the assailant, as well as a Jewish survivor of the rampage.
“Just months ago, 11 Jewish-Americans were viciously murdered in an antisemitic attack on the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh,” Trump said. “SWAT Officer Timothy Matson raced into the gunfire and was shot seven times chasing down the killer. Timothy has just had his 12th surgery — but he made the trip to be here with us tonight. Officer Matson: we are forever grateful for your courage in the face of evil.”
Trump went on to introduce Judah Samet — a survivor of the shooting whose personal story reflects the past century of Jewish history, as the president pointed out.
Samet had “arrived at the synagogue as the massacre began,” Trump explained.
He continued: “But not only did Judah narrowly escape death last fall — more than seven decades ago, he narrowly survived the Nazi concentration camps. Today is Judah’s 81st birthday. Judah says he can still remember the exact moment, nearly 75 years ago, after 10 months in a concentration camp, when he and his family were put on a train, and told they were going to another camp. Suddenly the train screeched to a halt. A soldier appeared. Judah’s family braced for the worst. Then, his father cried out with joy: ‘It’s the Americans.’”
Remarking that this year was the 75th anniversary of the 1944 D-Day landings in France, Trump highlighted the proud role played by US soldiers in liberating the European continent from Nazism.
“In June, we mark 75 years since the start of what General Dwight D. Eisenhower called the Great Crusade — the Allied liberation of Europe in World War II,” Trump said. “On D-Day, June 6, 1944, 15,000 young American men jumped from the sky, and 60,000 more stormed in from the sea, to save our civilization from tyranny. Here with us tonight are three of those heroes: Private First Class Joseph Reilly, Staff Sergeant Irving Locker, and Sergeant Herman Zeitchik. Gentlemen, we salute you.”
In one of the most emotional moments of the speech, Sgt. Zeitchik was reunited with Joshua Kaufman, a Jewish inmate of the Dachau concentration camp liberated in April 1945 by the US Seventh Army’s 45th Infantry Division.
Like Samet’s father, Kaufman had watched, said Trump, “through a hole in the wall of a cattle car as American soldiers rolled in with tanks. ‘To me,’ Joshua recalls, ‘the American soldiers were proof that God exists, and they came down from the sky.’”
Trump then explained that there was more to Sgt. Zeitchik’s story.
“A year after he stormed the beaches of Normandy, Herman was one of those American soldiers who helped liberate Dachau,” said Trump. “He was one of the Americans who helped rescue Joshua from that hell on earth. Almost 75 years later, Herman and Joshua are both together in the gallery tonight — seated side-by-side, here in the home of American freedom. Herman and Joshua: your presence this evening honors and uplifts our entire nation.”