First lady received warmly at synagogue

Candidate speaks of need for ethnic understanding

July 23, 2000|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

WESTHAMPTON, N.Y. - In her first public appearance before a Jewish audience since she was accused of making an anti-Semitic slur, Hillary Rodham Clinton attended services at a synagogue here yesterday and received a generally warm welcome.

Shortly after 9 a.m., as services at the Hampton Synagogue got under way and the men separated from the women - as is the custom in Orthodox Jewish congregations - Clinton walked into the synagogue, and a group of women burst into applause.

A few of the men shushed them and went back to their prayers, as Clinton took a seat up front. A few minutes later, Rabbi Marc Schneier, the founder of the synagogue, addressed Clinton, saying, "I know this has been a very difficult and very trying week for you, and it's time for us to move on."

During her remarks to about 1,000 worshipers, Clinton did not directly mention the accusation, which came out last week after a former reporter for the National Enquirer published a book that quoted a former campaign manager for President Clinton as saying Hillary Clinton had used an anti-Semitic slur to refer to him in 1974. She has vehemently denied the assertion.

Clinton often referred during her 30-minute talk yesterday to the importance of racial and ethnic "understanding" and "bridging ethnic difficulties."

"I am worried today about the increasing and continuous level of hatred and hate crimes, prejudice and bigotry in our communities," she said. "I think all of us know how important it is to stand against it whenever it raises its ugly head."

She also spoke, in broad terms, about the Middle East peace talks under way in Maryland, saying, "I know on many of our minds today is what's going on at Camp David."

She added, "So much of the challenge the president and the prime minister are facing is rooted in whether or not others will give up their hatred and their sense of violence and their commitment to destruction, in return for peace."

Clinton drew from the Torah, saying that the people of Israel are asking for "the inheritance that is their just due, a chance to keep their children safe from violence and terrorism."

She did not mention Jerusalem and steered clear of specifics on the peace talks, saying: "These negotiations are very difficult. Sometimes claiming and achieving one's inheritance is very difficult."

Some of the worshippers said they were disappointed that Clinton had not gone into more detail about the status of the Middle East talks or about her position on Israel.

"She took no stand, other than very surface stuff," said Richard Haar, a New York City resident who spends summers in Westhampton and regularly attends the synagogue. "It seemed like a lot of jargon. She really wasn't saying anything, and she had a tremendous opportunity here."

But several others said they were impressed by her knowledge of the Torah and believed she was committed to achieving stability in Israel.

Some also said they thought her appearance at an Orthodox synagogue, so soon after the flap over the accusation that she had made an anti-Semitic slur, was bold. "It was a very brave and classy thing to do," said Merna Tarnower.

Clinton's appearance was planned before the accusation surfaced, and she was also scheduled to attend some fund-raising events in the area later yesterday, campaign officials said.

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