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Carrollwood rabbi finds a friend in Washington

Yossie Dubrowski starts a running dialogue with President Bush and finds his words aren't falling on deaf ears.

By TIM GRANT, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published October 27, 2002


CARROLLWOOD -- It was June 2000. George Bush was campaigning for president. Rabbi Yossie Dubrowski met him during a campaign stop in Tampa, and they talked about family and religious issues.

That conversation was the start of a relationship that gave Dubrowski a direct line to the White House.

"I am not a politician, but I am a Republican," said Dubrowski, spiritual leader of the Bais Tefilah synagogue at 14908 Pennington Road. He and his wife, Sulha, live near the synagogue in the Country Place subdivision.

Dubrowski, 45, was invited to the White House on March 11. He said he and President Bush continued the conversation they had in Tampa two years ago. And they discussed world events that have occurred since then.

"We spent about 20 minutes talking about terrorism, Israel and religious issues," Dubrowski said, adding that "the subject of Iraq did not come up."

"The conversation was very frank, genuine and very, very informal."

During their conversation in Tampa in 2000, Dubrowski said Bush asked him to relay his thoughts to Karen Hughes, his director of communications. Hughes put Dubrowski in touch with another campaign worker, Joshua Bolten, who is Jewish.

"We struck a chord and became close friends," Dubrowski said.

Dubrowski said he learned Bolten is assistant to the president and deputy chief of staff for domestic policy from a Time magazine article.

"That's when I realized Joshua had a high position with an office next to the Oval Office, which he never told me due to his modesty," Dubrowski said.

Bolten gave Dubrowski a private telephone number to the White House. Once, Andrew Card, White House chief of staff, answered and "he knew of me as Josh's rabbi," Dubrowski said.

Dubrowski is Tampa director for Chabad Lubavitch, a worldwide organization that seeks to give Jews of all affiliations a better understanding of their 3,300-year-old traditions.

"What we do is educate Jews about the religion, make them aware of their heritage and teach the customs of all Jewish holidays," Dubrowski said. "Basically I try to make sure Jews do not assimilate."

Dubrowski, who was born in Brooklyn, and his wife have five children. They moved here 20 years ago. They've lived in Country Place for 12 years. Dubrowski established the synagogue in 1989.

"In my conversations with Josh I always gave words of prayer to the president and sent letters of advice, inspiration and encouragement to the president through Josh," Dubrowski said.

Dubrowski visited Bolten during a trip to Washington, D.C., for an event to commemorate the 100th birthday of the leader of the Chabad Lubavitch movement -- Rabbi Menachem "the Rebbe" Schneerson -- who died in 1994.

Bolten invited Dubrowski to tour the White House while he was in town.

"He showed me the Cabinet Room, the Staff Room, the Green Room and while walking, he paused for a second and told me the president would like to talk to me," Dubrowski said. "By the time I turned around, I saw the president standing in the doorway welcoming me into the Oval Office.

"The president thanked me for my prayers and words of inspiration," Dubrowski said. "I then realized there was true communication between him and his staff. Up until then, I wasn't sure if they were just being polite saying they had passed my letters and prayers along."

-- Tim Grant can be reached (813) 269-5311 or at rant@sptimes.com .

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