President Obama made an impassioned appeal to American Jews on Friday, arguing that his approach to the problems in the Middle East flows from an interpretation of Jewish values that he has adopted as guiding principles in his own life.

The 29-minute speech at Adas Israel Congregation, which was just the fourth time that an American president has addressed a congregation at a U.S. synagogue, underscored the personal stake Obama has in strengthening his relationship with some segments of the country’s Jewish community. The president addressed a range of policy issues — including the ongoing nuclear talks with Iran and the stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace process. But at its core, the speech was a plea for understanding that his criticisms of Israel’s government stem from his belief that the country must live up to “the type of nation that it was intended to be in its earliest founding.”

“It’s precisely because, yes, I have high expectations for Israel — the same way I have high expectations for the United States of America — that I feel a responsibility to speak out honestly about what I think will lead to long-term security and to the preservation of a true democracy in the Jewish homeland,” he said.

In the same way Obama has framed American exceptionalism as the nation’s ability to recognize its own failings and correct them, the president framed Israel’s identity as a struggle across millennia to provide a haven where “everybody has a place, everybody has rights, everybody is a child of God.”

In the run-up to Friday’s speech, several of the president’s allies had urged him to forge a more emotional connection with advocates who are uneasy about his overtures to Iran and his recent criticism of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

New York Times