WASHINGTON — US President Barack Obama will visit the largest synagogue in the American southwest Wednesday to highlight its work mobilizing community health registration as the administration increases its efforts on talking up its problem-ridden Obamacare. Obama will meet with volunteers at Dallas, Texas’s Temple Emanu-El, where Dallas Area Interfaith launched its campaign to help enroll and educate uninsured Texans.
Obama is expected to meet with and thank the local volunteers, and will join canvassers and navigators — the volunteers who help explain the new health care law — working through the interfaith group. The group has also produced 100,000 explanatory booklets in English and Spanish to help Dallas County residents understand their status under the Affordable Care Act.
This will be the first visit by a sitting president to the historic synagogue, which was founded in 1873 by a handful of German-Jewish pioneers. The temple’s leadership — Rabbi David Stern and President Scott McCartney — sent an email notifying congregants of the president’s visit.
“The foundation for this event has been the vital work we have tirelessly done in social justice over many years,” they wrote. “Selecting Temple as the location for the meeting reflects the central role Temple volunteers have played in health issues in Dallas.”
“With our Dallas Area Interfaith partners, Temple members have advocated for Medicaid expansion and created the Durable Medical Exchange of Dallas, along with our most recent efforts to educate citizens for health care under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act,” the two noted, expressing “great pride” that the president had chosen their temple as the site for his visit.
The north Dallas temple will be a photogenic backdrop for the president — it won an Award of Merit from the American Institute of Architects and includes work by Anni Albers, Ben Shawn and Marc Chagall.
The Dallas temple has a long history of community action. In the aftermath of the assassination of John F. Kennedy, congregants developed a plan that presaged Head Start, the governmental program that provides health and education services to needy children. At the time, in 1965, Dallas was the largest city in America that did not provide free public kindergartens, setting up indigent — and especially black — students up for a rough beginning in first grade. The temple responded by opening a preschool for some of Dallas’s most impoverished four- and five-year-olds, driving the city toward educational reform.
“Hosting a sitting president for the first time is a culmination of Temple’s distinguished legacy as a leader in social justice in Dallas,” the temple’s leaders wrote.
In recent days, Obama has been increasingly on the defensive concerning the legislation known as Obamacare. With its national website still malfunctioning and amid increasing reports that insurance providers are discontinuing a number of low-cost policies, the administration has summoned Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sibelius to Capitol Hill to account for some of the failures. Obama himself, as well as Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan, is taking to the road to put a better face on the issue.
Both Obama and Donovan are visiting Texas and Florida respectively, states with Republican state governments and in which the numbers of uninsured are among the highest in the nation.