Rabbi Andrew Paley, senior rabbi at Temple Shalom in North Dallas, described the experience of participating in the memorial at the Meyerson Symphony Center to the five police officers killed in an ambush on July 7, as “powerful, exciting, overwhelming.”
Paley was one of three clergy who offered a prayer during the tribute, and he sat on stage directly behind First Lady Michelle Obama.
The dignitaries on the stage whispered to one another several times throughout the event. But it seems what the audience most noticed was when former President George W. Bush whispered some comment to the First Lady and her reaction to him.
Micki Rawlings leaned over to say something to Dallas Police Chief David Brown. Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price commented to DART Police Chief James Spiller. The Bidens interacted. But the current first lady and former president were cutting up like old friends.
Paley said the comments he heard were mostly innocuous. Commenting on one soloist from the interfaith choir that performed, Bush leaned over and said, “Man, can she sing.”
But other comments got more of a reaction when Bush said something to the first lady and both his wife and her husband laughed at Michelle’s response.
Paley said the Bushes arrived at the Meyerson about 40 minutes before the Obamas and Bidens, who had been visiting injured officers at Parkland Hospital before the service. He said while they were waiting backstage, Bush put everyone at ease, asking, “How’s it going everybody?” as he walked in.
“I understood why people like him,” Paley said.
Paley described Mrs. Bush as “classy, composed and refined,” but as they waited for the Obamas, the other memorial participants sat in a circle talking.
“Bush tried to connect with everyone,” Paley said. He didn’t want any formality. “You know, I’m not the president,” Bush told them and sat in the circle with them. To make those participating on the world stage for the first time, along with others who were old hands at it, the former president told some stories as they waited backstage for what would be a very solemn and moving event.
Bush told the group about meeting Russian President Vladimir Putin. When Putin came to the White House, he met Bush’s Scottish terrier Barney. When Bush was in Moscow, he visited Putin’s residence. The Russian leader brought out his dog, Konni, a black Labrador retriever, and said, “My dog’s bigger.”
As they waited for the Obamas and Bidens, the choir sang on stage, but backstage, the group chatted. Paley asked Bush if he was still painting. “Like a madman,” Bush said. Paley told the former president he had seen his series of portraits of world leaders at the Bush Library. “Not my finest work,” Bush told him.
Before going on stage, Paley asked Bush if he’d ever been to Temple Shalom. “Not yet,” Bush told him. Paley invited him, saying, “We’d love to have you.” Bush said jokingly, “I don’t get that far north.” Temple Shalom is just north of LBJ Freeway on Hillcrest at Alpha Road.
Paley described Vice President Joe Biden as very likable. “He’s just like on TV — warm and approachable.”
As they lined up to go on stage, Biden was behind Paley. The rabbi said something about being ahead of the Vice President and Biden joked, “I’m Catholic, but I’d follow the Jews anywhere.”
He called the President and First Lady “genuinely nice people,” and said he left feeling the Obamas were “real humans who were really heartbroken” after all efforts to do anything about gun violence had been thwarted. After the memorial, Paley said, Obama spent about an hour with the families of the slain officers.