Home January 2020 Bearing Witness and Bridging Cultures

Bearing Witness and Bridging Cultures

0120_OC_RATHSMission Viejo Mayor Greg Raths traces his involvement with the Jewish people to being chief of staff and chief financial officer of the White House military office from 1996 to 1999. The nonpartisan position, to which he was assigned by the Pentagon as a Marine Corps colonel, afforded him a unique view of peace negotiations in the Middle East during the presidency of Bill Clinton between 1996 and 1999.

From the East Wing of the White House to Israel to Camp David, Raths witnessed conversations with American, Israeli and Palestinian leaders. Sitting in on meetings with world leaders made him aware of the dynamics of the volatile region.

“President Clinton was determined to finalize a peace treaty during his administration and worked very hard to accomplish it, but Yasser Arafat had no intention of making any deal, because he would lose his job as a military leader if there were peace,” Raths said. “Benjamin Netanyahu was in his first stint as prime minister of Israel, and he wanted to press for a few issues about the settlements. Then Ehud Barak became prime minister and bent over backwards to accommodate the Palestinians, but Arafat still didn’t want peace.”

Raths was impressed with the way the men and women of the Israeli military protect the country against “bad actors in the region.” The U.S. government helps the Israelis with weaponry, and Raths was part of that process.

When the assignment ended, Raths came to California. After retiring from military service in 2004 after 30 years, he flew as a commercial airline pilot and later went into business as president of an automobile parts distribution company. He obtained a bachelor’s degree in political science and history from Cal State Fullerton. He also holds a master’s degree from National Defense University in military strategy, a bachelor’s degree in business administration from Arizona State University and AA degrees from Phoenix College and Saddleback College.

Raths was especially moved by a class on the Holocaust at Cal State Fullerton. As a result of a trip to a Holocaust museum, he befriended a survivor who had been on the last train to Auschwitz and, after liberation, was eventually reunited with her husband.

“I learned that the Germans said the Jews were subhuman and used the analogy of rats,” he said. It motivated him to visit the Holocaust Museum in Washington, DC, and to study more about the Holocaust.

Now in his fifth year on the Mission Viejo City Council, Raths became the mayor of the city in 2019. First elected in 2014 and re-elected in 2018, he was selected by his city council colleagues to serve as mayor pro tem for 2015 and 2018 and mayor for this year. A longtime resident of the city, he has been married for 37 years and has three children and six grandchildren.

Raths met Rabbi Jeff (Ari) Montanari of Yeshiva Pirchei Shoshanim when the rabbi was recruiting Jewish people at the Civil Air Patrol CA613 squadron. On September 11, Raths spoke to the group, sharing stories about his career while offering a positive patriotic message. He talked about coming to California in 1978 as a young first lieutenant in the United States Marine Corps, where he was assigned to the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing at the Marine Corps Air Station in El Toro; about being a decorated combat fighter pilot of Operations Desert Storm, Southern Watch and Restore Hope; about commanding a Marine Corps F/A-18 Hornet Fighter Squadron aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln, a Marine Aircraft Group and a Marine Aircraft Wing; and finally about his service in Washington. He related that his grandfather was a pilot in the U.S. Army Air Corps flying over Normandy in WW II, his father was a military pilot and his son is a military pilot.

On October 11, Yeshiva Pirchei Shoshanim, an Orthodox yeshiva, conferred an honorary doctor of advocacy degree on Raths. It recognized “the body of work to further the understanding of Judaism and safeguarding Jewish life in a vibrant multicultural society in Orange County, California.”

According to Rabbi Montanari, who presented the award, “Mayor Raths is “pro-Israel and a huge supporter of the Jewish people. He inspired the squadron with his stories about Israel and works hard to promote good relations between all the people in the city.”

ILENE SCHNEIDER IS A CONTRIBUTING WRITER TO JLIFE MAGAZINE.

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