How the Gates of Repentance got into Clintons hands

Sign up for Weekday J and get the latest on what's happening in the Jewish Bay Area.

"I'm moved that he found it and liked it," Riemer said. The prayer compares the changing of the seasons to the process that people go through to repent. "It's an obvious metaphor," he said of the prayer.

"Though written a number of years ago, it sounded like it was written for this occasion," said Riemer.

Clinton would have never known of Riemer's prayer if it was not for Ira Leesfield, a prominent Miami attorney and major Democratic contributor who gave the president a copy of the Gates of Repentance at a private gathering last week in Florida.

In a telephone interview from his law office, Leesfield said he went to Temple Beth Shalom to meet with his rabbi to discuss his part in the upcoming Yom Kippur service and "serendipitously" opened the prayer book to Riemer's prayer.

"Obviously it's very appropriate to his own self-evaluation," Leesfield said of Clinton. So when the president visited Leesfield's house on Wednesday of last week to attend a small, late-night gathering of two dozen people, Leesfield gave him the prayer book with a note, "Mr. President, I think this is something you would appreciate looking at."

Reform Jewish officials estimate that more than 700,000 Gates of Repentance prayer books, published in 1979, are being used in some 90 percent of Reform congregations in America.

Leesfield said he had "a strong feeling of helping," in light of Clinton's use of the prayer.

"I have a lot of pride in being Jewish. I have a lot of pride in our religion's feeling about forgiveness and atonement." Leesfield said he took satisfaction that the president "found it important to share with the community."