Lyndon B. Johnson photo

Remarks in Austin at the Dedication of the Agudas Achim Synagogue.

December 30, 1963

Mr. Novy, Mr. Simons, ladies and gentlemen:

I don't know how any man could be worthy of all the good things that Jim Novy said about me, but through the years, many years, almost 30, I have received great comfort, strength, and inspiration from Jim Novy, Louie Novy, Joe Cohen, their sons, grandsons, fellow sons, and friends in this community. Their friendship is one of my most prized possessions. Their loyalty is one of my greatest strengths. The fact that you would want me here this evening touched me to the extent that I came a long way to be with you.

I am grateful that my first nonofficial public remarks since November 22d can be made here in Austin and in conjunction with the dedication of a house of worship.

Austin is the city that we love, and a good many of the reasons for it are out here looking at us tonight. For Mrs. Johnson and me, our public life began here. I have kept Lady Bird happy through the times past by promising that someday we would return to Austin to live--and we shall.

We love Austin for many reasons. A good many of them are here tonight. One of the principal ones just sat down--because such fidelity, such loyalty, and such devotion to friends you rarely find as has been evidenced by this man. He was way out there in back of the audience in New York, but he has always been out there wherever you were and whenever you needed him.

That is true of so many of you. Yes, we love Austin for many reasons. Above all, we love it for its tolerance. What always surprised my friends back in the East when I tell them is that when I was elected to Congress, as Jim told you, back in 1937, newspapers were being published in six or eight languages in Austin and in the Tenth District. From many lands, from many cultures, men brought their families here to escape oppression, to escape war, to search and seek for peace.

Times have changed through the years, but the human heart has not changed, and wherever and however men live, the yearning for peace is still the hope that burns most eternally in their hearts. As I said to the Chancellor of Germany yesterday, we invite all who will to go down the road to peace with us; but whether we have any acceptances or not, we are going down that road alone, if need be.

No burden rests more heavily upon me in these days than the knowledge that to the farthest corner of the earth men look to the office I hold as the chief office of peace on earth. With all that is in me, I intend to, and God willing I will, keep that trust. I say this here tonight on this occasion because we know that the real hope of a universal peace lies in achieving universal morality, decency, and brotherhood. There is evil in our times, as there has been in all times, but the history of mankind is a history of good triumphing.

Out of the evil visited upon us just recently, blessings can come and have come, for Americans have found strength to bear their sorrows in the only place that real strength is to be found--close to God and the works that He would have us do.

I was so touched by the invocation this evening, as I know all of you must have been, and we are so blessed in having the privilege of being in the presence of such a great and good and inspiring soul.

On Thanksgiving Day, Mrs. Johnson and I attended a worship service in Washington. The sermon then was delivered by Rabbi Stanley Rabinowitz. The Rabbi told this story, which I have remembered so vividly ever since Thanksgiving Day. He said once, in the past, birds had no wings. They could not fly. They walked in the dust, earthbound. Then one day God threw wings at their feet and commanded them to carry the wings. At first this seemed very difficult. The burden was heavy. But in obedience to God's will, they held the wings closely to their sides and the wings soon grew to their bodies. At last, what they once thought were hampering weights lifted them unto the heights and enabled them to soar unto the very gates of heaven.

We cannot always do God's purpose, but we can always try to do His will. The man who does, and the nation whose people do, have the hope of reaching new heights.

Mr. Novy, our Constitution wisely separates church and state, separates religion and Government. But this does not mean that men of Government should divorce themselves from religion. On the contrary, a first responsibility of national leadership, as I see it, is spiritual leadership, for I deeply believe that America will prevail not because her pocketbooks are big, but because the principles of her people are strong.

We have met a great test, and we have met it well. But I would remind you tonight that history is not through with us. Great nations must meet many tests. We shall face many more in the days to come. It is my hope, and your prayer, that the tests of the future will find us all working in brotherhood to put down the hate of the present, to prevail over evil, to work with mercy and compassion among the afflicted, to be in all that we do worthy to be called God's children.

We have much to preserve and much to protect. I wonder if any of us really realizes tonight how blessed we are, in this, the Thanksgiving and Christmas season, when we live in a world of 3 billion people, a world of disease and want and illiteracy, a world in which we are the most fortunate of all peoples.

Only 6 nations of the 113 have a per capita income of as much as $80 a month; we have more than $250 per month per capita income--the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Sweden, and Switzerland. More than half of the people of the world of 3 billion live off of less than $8 per month.

I have traveled on the continent of Africa, throughout Southeast Asia, in western and northern Europe, and throughout Latin America. Everywhere I have gone, I have seen human beings all seeking the same, trying to find the answer to the ancient enemies of mankind--poverty, illiteracy, and disease. I stood in a mud hut in Africa, in Senegal, and I saw an African mother with a baby on her breast, one in her stomach, one on her back, and eight on the floor, that she was trying to feed off of $8 per month.

As I looked into her determined eyes, I saw the same expression that I saw in my mother's eyes when she, the wife of a tenant farmer, looked down upon me and my little sisters and brothers, determined that I should have my chance and my opportunity, believing that where there was a will, there was a way.

Tonight, as I meet here with you, I think that we live in the one land where that opportunity really exists, and how we ought to get down on our knees and thank the good Lord Almighty for the providence and for the blessings that are ours. This is such a wonderful land; we must always keep it SO.

If we have leaders like this good man who introduced me, who has spent so many of his hours in the years past trying to build temples like this, temples where men can worship, temples where justice reigns, temples where the free are welcome, temples where the dignity of man prevails, then America will truly be worthy of the leadership that we claim, and the rest of the world will follow where we lead.

Thank you.

Note: The President participated in the dedication of the new synagogue of the Agudas Achim Congregation on the evening of December 30. His opening words referred to James Novy, chairman of the synagogue's building committee, and to Milton Simons, president of the congregation.

Lyndon B. Johnson, Remarks in Austin at the Dedication of the Agudas Achim Synagogue. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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