Jewish American Heritage Month celebrated at the White House

by | Jun 17, 2024 | Trending News

Biden affirms commitment to Israel and fighting antisemitism

The White House’s Rose Garden provided the festive backdrop for the celebration of Jewish American Heritage Month on Monday, May 20.

Approximately 250 – 300 people attended the event at the invitation of President and Dr. Biden. Among the attendees was Tidewater’s Jody Wagner.

“I really don’t know why I was invited,” she muses.

“I met people from all over the country – Seattle, New England, Florida,” says Wagner. The only apparent common thread was that everyone was Jewish. Otherwise, the guests came from different backgrounds and professions and “were involved in a wide variety of activities – one was a long-term teacher at a Jewish school in New Hampshire, one was a Congresswoman from North Carolina, one was a housing policy consultant in New York City, and one was a U.S. patent examiner working remotely.

“Other people attending included the mother of a freed child hostage, a student activist fighting antisemitism on campus, the owner of a Miami professional sports team, and a female comedian,” she says.

Once through security, the tone of the afternoon was celebratory with a military band playing Klezmer music and waiters passing wine, sparkling water, and appetizers. “It was lovely,” says Wagner.

The atmosphere was upbeat, she says, but became serious when President Joe Biden spoke of the hostages and his commitment to Israel and antisemitism.

In his remarks introducing President Biden, Second Gentleman Douglas Emhoff said, “We’ve come together to celebrate our heritage and honor our culture, to reflect on the invaluable contributions of our ancestors and the Jewish leaders of today.
“But it is also a challenging time for our community. It’s been a dark and difficult seven months. I know a lot of us are feeling alone, afraid, and in pain.”

Emhoff spoke of an epidemic of hate, “including a crisis of antisemitism in our country and around the world. We see it on our streets, our college campuses, and our places of worship.”

Invitation to the event.
Invitation to the event.
President Joe Biden and Second Gentleman Doug Emhoff.
President Joe Biden and Second Gentleman Doug Emhoff.

Acknowledging the difficulty of having hope and feeling optimistic, he said, “But we keep fighting because we have no choice but to fight.”

When speaking with Jewish leaders, he said his “message is always the same: We still need to find and embrace that Jewish joy.

“I want everyone to experience joy, especially our young people, because we cannot live in fear. We cannot be afraid. We must always raise our voices and live openly and proudly as Jews.”

Emhoff recounted that last year prior to travelling to Poland and Germany to recognize International Holocaust Remembrance Day, President Biden pulled him into the Oval Office. “He shared with me his memories of visiting the Dachau concentration camp with his children and grandchildren — and how angry his father was that the Allies had not bombed the train tracks leading to the concentration camps.”

Emhoff also reminded the audience that immediately after October 7, that President Biden condemned the evil Hamas unleashed into the world and staunchly proclaimed his support for the Jewish people and Israel.

“He reaffirmed America’s ironclad commitment to Israel’s security, and that hasn’t changed,” said Emhoff.

In his remarks, President Biden said, “The story of the Jewish people is a story of resilience — absolute resilience from pain and persecution, to hope and delight even in the darkest times.

“Throughout our history, Jewish people helped define and expand the singular idea that binds us together as Americans.” Jews, he said, have been in “the forefront of helping realize the promise of America for all Americans.”

The president also spoke about Jewish suffragettes and advocates fighting for women’s rights, voting rights, and “every right we have.

“My whole career, every — every fight to increase civil rights and civil liberties has been led by the Jewish community. The Jewish faith leaders and citizens marched, petitioned, boarded a bus, demanded civil rights for all.”

While praising Jewish authors, poets, engineers, doctors, military personnel, etc., Biden said that he understood that “the trauma of October 7th and its aftermath of the deadliest day the Jewish people have undergone since the Holocaust is still fresh and ongoing.
“Twelve hundred innocents (were) slaughtered in their kibbutz; massacred at a music festival; brutally raped, mutilated, sexually assaulted. Hundreds taken hostage and thousands more wounded, carrying the scars and the memory of what they endured. You all know someone, directly or indirectly — family, friends — who were stolen from you or are in a harm’s way now.

“And my commitment to the safety of the Jewish people, the security of Israel and its right to exist as an independent Jewish state is ironclad.”

Biden said his administration is working around the clock to free the remaining hostages.

“And, folks, let me [be] clear. I’ll always ensure that Israel has everything it needs to defend itself against Hamas and all other enemies, just as I did with Iran’s unprecedented attack.

“We stand with Israel to take out Sinwar and the rest of the butchers of Hamas. We want Hamas defeated. We’ll work with Israel to make that happen.”

Biden referenced Jewish values of “compassion, kindness, dignity, and human life,” when speaking about providing humanitarian assistance to help innocent Palestinian civilians who are suffering because of the war Hamas started.

Regarding his position on the ICC, President Biden said, “We reject the ICC’s application for arrest warrants against Israeli leaders. Whatever these warrants may imply, there is no equivalence between Israel and Hamas. And it’s clear Israel wants to do all it can to ensure civilian protection.

“But let me be clear. Contrary to allegations against Israel made by the International Court of Justice, what’s happening is not genocide. We reject that. And we’ll always stand with Israel.”

Biden then referenced the “vicious surge of antisemitism around the world, here in America as well, in our streets, our social media, and college campuses. It’s wrong, and it must stop.”

The Department of Education, he said, has put colleges on notice that antisemitism is discrimination prohibited under Title 6 of the Civil Rights Act.

“To the Jewish community, I want you to know: I see your fear, your hurt, and your pain. And let me assure you, as your President: You are not alone. You belong.

“In moments like this, we do well to remember that this ancient story of Jewish resilience endures because of its people. That’s what today is all about: feeling the joy and pride of community; honoring the beauty of your unshakeable faith; and celebrating heritage and legacy of Jewish Americans, who continue to enrich every single part of our life.”