Blog Posts Related to the American Jewish Community

  • “If You See Something, Say Something” Campaign Partners with Jewish Community

    Today Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano, Jon Carson, Director of the White House Office of Public Engagement, and I met with Jewish leaders from across the country to highlight the important role of faith-based leaders in providing guidance and assistance to their organizations and institutions regarding ways to protect against terrorism and other threats.

    Janet Napolitano at Meeting with Jewish Leaders

    Secretary Janet Napolitano and Director of the Office of Public Engagement Jon Carson meet with Jewish leaders on the "When You See Something, Say Something” campaign's first faith-based partnership in the Rooselvelt Room of the White House, June 10, 2011. (DHS Photo by Barry Bahler)

  • President Obama Honors Jewish American Heritage: "The Jewish People Have Always Persevered"

    Watch the President's full remarks here.

    This afternoon the President welcomed some of the most influential people of our time to the White House, from Members of Congress and Supreme Court Justices to Elie Wiesel, who he called "a dear friend of mine and an inspiration to the world."  As he explained, they are just the latest generations in a long tradition that has helped shape our country and the world:

    This month is a chance for Americans of every faith to appreciate the contributions of the Jewish people throughout our history –- often in the face of unspeakable discrimination and adversity.  For hundreds of years, Jewish Americans have fought heroically in battle and inspired us to pursue peace.  They’ve built our cities, cured our sick.  They’ve paved the way in the sciences and the law, in our politics and in the arts.  They remain our leaders, our teachers, our neighbors and our friends.

    Not bad for a band of believers who have been tested from the moment that they came together and professed their faith.  The Jewish people have always persevered.  And that’s why today is about celebrating the people in this room, the thousands who came before, the generations who will shape the future of our country and the future of the world.

    President Barack Obama Greets Elie Wiesel During a Reception in Honor of Jewish American History Month

    President Barack Obama greets Elie Wiesel during a reception in honor of Jewish American Heritage Month in the East Room of the White House, May 17, 2011. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

  • Repair the World: USDA Hosts its First Food and Justice Passover Seder

    Matzah, the traditional flatbread eaten by Jewish people to commemorate Passover, decorated six circular tables, along with bitter herbs (maror), “mortar” for bricks (haroset), and green leafy vegetables (carpas).  Around the tables, USDA employees, Administration officials, and a host of guests from the non-profit and Jewish community gathered to celebrate the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food and Justice Passover Seder.

    A traditional seder is a ceremonial Jewish meal commemorating the Passover holiday and Exodus of the Israelites from Egypt after being freed from slavery.  Held in partnership with Jewish Funds for Justice and the Progressive Jewish Alliance, USDA’s modernized symbolic seder was held after Passover and focused on issues where food and justice intersect.

    Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack opened the evening by reflecting on what Passover has meant to him and said, “This evening is an opportunity for reflection on the blessings in our lives and the importance of what we do.”

    USDA Hosts Seder

    Secretary Vilsack receives an “Omer Counter” piece of artwork on behalf of the Department of Agriculture. April 28, 2011. (by Cory Fischer, USDA)

  • Why Is This Night Different from All Other Nights? Recipes for Passover

    Tonight and tomorrow night, Jewish families and friends in the United States and around the world will gather for Seders to commemorate the Exodus from Egypt and the triumph of hope and perseverance over injustice and oppression. For most Jewish families, the Passover meal is full traditions passed down through the generations like the maror, or bitter herbs, which symbolize the bitterness of slavery in Egypt or the matzoh, unleavened bread, which recalls the haste with which the Israelites left Egypt – giving them no time to allow their bread to rise.

    While some families hold the secret to the fluffiest matzoh balls in town, others have created new traditions to share with their families and friends.

    Here at the White House tonight, President and Mrs. Obama will again host a small Seder, complete with recipes provided by friends and family.  It’s a tradition that started in Pennsylvania in 2008, when after a long day on the campaign trail then-Senator Obama gathered a group of staffers – Jewish and non-Jewish alike – for an impromptu Seder.  Each year since, the same group, along with a few close friends and family, have come together to carry on the tradition at the White House.  Among the family recipes on the menu this year are a traditional chicken soup with matzoh balls, braised beef brisket, potato kugel, carrot soufflé, and matzoh chocolate cake.

  • Buchenwald

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    In Germany today, the President visited Dresden castle, held meetings and a press conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and toured the Church of Our Lady. The event of greatest significance, however, was a visit with Chancellor Merkel and Elie Wiesel to Buchenwald Concentration Camp, where they were joined Bertrand Herz, a survivor of the camp. 
    The President and Chancellor Merkel tour Buchenwald Concentration Camp, joined by camp survivors Elie Wiesel and Bertrand Herz.(President Barack Obama places a flower at a memorial at Buchenwald Nazi concentration camp, June 5, 2009.  With the President are German chancellor Angela Merkel, Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel, and camp survivor Bertrand Herz.  Official White House Photo by Pete Souza.)
    Chancellor Merkel clearly had a heavy heart as she discussed the overwhelming regret felt in Germany, concluding her remarks with a focus on the tremendous sense of responsibility she and her country feel towards the future as well:
    Third, here in Buchenwald I would like to highlight an obligation placed on us Germans as a consequence of our past: to stand up for human rights, to stand up for rule of law, and for democracy. We shall fight against terror, extremism, and anti-Semitism. And in the awareness of our responsibility we shall strive for peace and freedom, together with our friends and partners in the United States and all over the world.
    The President spoke of his great uncle:
    I've known about this place since I was a boy, hearing stories about my great uncle, who was a very young man serving in World War II. He was part of the 89th Infantry Division, the first Americans to reach a concentration camp. They liberated Ohrdruf, one of Buchenwald's sub-camps.
    And I told this story, he returned from his service in a state of shock saying little and isolating himself for months on end from family and friends, alone with the painful memories that would not leave his head. And as we see -- as we saw some of the images here, it's understandable that someone who witnessed what had taken place here would be in a state of shock.
    My great uncle's commander, General Eisenhower, understood this impulse to silence. He had seen the piles of bodies and starving survivors and deplorable conditions that the American soldiers found when they arrived, and he knew that those who witnessed these things might be too stunned to speak about them or be able -- be unable to find the words to describe them; that they might be rendered mute in the way my great uncle had. And he knew that what had happened here was so unthinkable that after the bodies had been taken away, that perhaps no one would believe it.
    And that's why he ordered American troops and Germans from the nearby town to tour the camp. He invited congressmen and journalists to bear witness and ordered photographs and films to be made. And he insisted on viewing every corner of these camps so that -- and I quote -- he could "be in a position to give first-hand evidence of these things if ever in the future there develops a tendency to charge these allegations merely to propaganda."
    We are here today because we know this work is not yet finished. To this day, there are those who insist that the Holocaust never happened -- a denial of fact and truth that is baseless and ignorant and hateful. This place is the ultimate rebuke to such thoughts; a reminder of our duty to confront those who would tell lies about our history.
    Elie Wiesel spoke last, discussing hope and hopelessness, and addressing the President directly:
    I was so hopeful. Paradoxically, I was so hopeful then. Many of us were, although we had the right to give up on humanity, to give up on culture, to give up on education, to give up on the possibility of living one's life with dignity in a world that has no place for dignity.
    We rejected that possibility and we said, no, we must continue believing in a future, because the world has learned. But again, the world hasn't. Had the world learned, there would have been no Cambodia and no Rwanda and no Darfur and no Bosnia.
    Will the world ever learn? I think that is why Buchenwald is so important -- as important, of course, but differently as Auschwitz. It's important because here the large -- the big camp was a kind of international community. People came there from all horizons -- political, economic, culture. The first globalization essay, experiment, were made in Buchenwald. And all that was meant to diminish the humanity of human beings.
    You spoke of humanity, Mr. President. Though unto us, in those times, it was human to be inhuman. And now the world has learned, I hope. And of course this hope includes so many of what now would be your vision for the future, Mr. President. A sense of security for Israel, a sense of security for its neighbors, to bring peace in that place. The time must come. It's enough -- enough to go to cemeteries, enough to weep for oceans. It's enough. There must come a moment -- a moment of bringing people together.
    And therefore we say anyone who comes here should go back with that resolution. Memory must bring people together rather than set them apart. Memories here not to sow anger in our hearts, but on the contrary, a sense of solidarity that all those who need us. What else can we do except invoke that memory so that people everywhere who say the 21st century is a century of new beginnings, filled with promise and infinite hope, and at times profound gratitude to all those who believe in our task, which is to improve the human condition.
    A great man, Camus, wrote at the end of his marvelous novel, The Plague: "After all," he said, "after the tragedy, never the rest...there is more in the human being to celebrate than to denigrate." Even that can be found as truth -- painful as it is -- in Buchenwald.
    Thank you, Mr. President, for allowing me to come back to my father's grave, which is still in my heart.