Blog Posts Related to the American Jewish Community

  • A Great First Week as the New Director of Jewish Outreach

    I just finished a great first week here in the White House Office of Public Engagement. The American Jewish community has a tremendous amount going on so I jumped right in! In just a few days, I was fortunate to meet some fabulous organizations including the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, and the Joint Action Committee for Political Affairs.  I have already been struck by the depth and breadth of the work being done and am excited to meet with more Jewish organizations and community leaders in the weeks ahead.  From the most established groups founded in the nineteenth century to care for refugees, to brand new ones leading the way in sustainable development and social justice, Jewish community organizations are making an incredible impact.

    The week was especially meaningful to me as I was able to attend the dedication of the Jewish Chaplains Memorial on Chaplains Hill at Arlington National Cemetery. As the Grandson of two Jewish World War II veterans, I was proud to help honor the 14 Chaplains who made the ultimate sacrifice ministering to my grandfathers and their comrades in arms during conflicts dating to the Civil War. This monument honors among others, Rabbi Alexander D. Goode who was killed when the USAT Dorchester was sunk by a torpedo while in transit to Greenland. The four chaplains on board, two Protestant, one Catholic, and one Jewish, saved countless lives by giving away their lifejackets and helping to organize the evacuation of the ship. Numerous survivors of the Dorchesterreported seeing the four Chaplains, arms linked in prayer as the ship sank below the waves. The Chaplains on the Dorchester serve as an inspiration to Americans of all faiths of shared responsibility to safeguard our democracy. In fact, in April 2011, President Obama cited the heroism of the four Chaplains in proclamation for Jewish American Heritage Month.

    All in all, a fantastic first week!

    Jarrod Bernstein is the Director of Jewish Outreach at the Office of Public Engagement.


  • L’Shana Tovah

    Watch President Obama's Rosh Hashanah Message, here

    At sundown tomorrow night, the Jewish community here in the United States and all over the world will gather to celebrate the start of the new year. Rosh Hashanah offers us an extraordinary sense of possibility because it provides us an opportunity to shape our world for the better.

    In his video greeting for the High Holy Days, President Obama says: 

    As the High Holidays begin, we look back on all the moments during the past year that gave us reason to hope.  Around the world, a new generation is reaching for their universal rights.  Here in the United States, we’ve responded to our challenges by focusing on the things that really matter – friendship, family, and community. 

    But this last year was also one of hardship for people around the world.  Too many of our friends and neighbors continue to struggle in the wake of a terrible economic recession.  And beyond our borders, many of our closest allies – including the State of Israel – face the uncertainties of an unpredictable age. 

    That is why my Administration is doing everything we can to promote prosperity here at home and security and peace throughout the world – and that includes reaffirming our commitment to the State of Israel.  While we cannot know all that the New Year will bring, we do know this: the United States will continue to stand with Israel, because the bond between our two nations is unshakable.

     As Jewish tradition teaches us, we may not complete the work, but that must never keep us from trying.  In that spirit, Michelle and I wish you, your families, and all who celebrate Rosh Hashanah a sweet year full of health, happiness, and peace.

    From the White House, we wish everyone a happy and sweet New Year.

  • Organizations Respond to President Obama's Plan for Economic Growth and Deficit Reduction

    On Monday, President Obama unveiled a plan for economic growth and deficit reduction (pdf) that details how to pay for the American Jobs Act while also paying down our debt over time. The plan, which is being sent to the Congressional Joint Committee on Deficit Reduction, offers a balanced approach to further reduce our nation’s deficit and get our fiscal house in order, based on the values of shared responsibility and shared sacrifice. Organizations are adding their voice to the conversation and we would love to hear from you.

    Please join the conversation by commenting on the White House Facebook wall, tweeting, or visiting the White House Office of Public Engagement website.

    Communications Workers of America (CWA), Larry Cohen, President:

    The administration’s plan is a positive step toward overall tax fairness and ensuring that the wealthiest Americans pay at least the same percentage of their earnings as working and middle class Americans. Rates for the wealthiest Americans have been cut 75 percent in the last 50 years.

    Service Employees International Union (SEIU), Mary Kay Henry, President:

    President Obama was right to propose the millionaire’s tax and an end to the Bush tax cuts as an important step in ending tax giveaways and closing corporate loopholes for those who haven’t done their part to turn our country around.

    National Partnership for Women & Families, Debra L. Ness, President:

    In these tough economic times, when enormous challenges and the hardest of choices are before us, establishing priorities is more important than ever. President Obama’s Plan for Economic Growth and Deficit Reduction is a move in the right direction. It can help begin to address America's economic problems while prioritizing the health and economic survival of older and low-income women and others who are more vulnerable than ever in this recession.

  • The American Jobs Act and Nonprofits

    During these tough economic times, nonprofit organizations, both faith-based and secular, are the front-line responders to communities in need.  From convening support groups and prayer services to providing child care, teaching job skills, and putting Americans back to work, these nonprofit and faith-based groups are supporting working families and individuals across the country.  

    President Obama recently announced a major new proposal called the American Jobs Act and sent legislation to Congress for action.  The American Jobs Act is all about getting Americans working and putting money back in the pockets of the American people, and nonprofit organizations are a key part of this bill. 

    The President recognizes that roughly one in twelve workers in the United States are employed in the nonprofit sector, which is why he made nonprofits – both faith-based and secular – a key part of this bill.  The Act will help all Americans by creating jobs now, sparking economic growth, and providing relief to millions of families.  Under the Act, all business and organizations – including nonprofits – can receive a tax credit through partnering with state entities when they hire long-term unemployed individuals or veterans.  The Act also includes an innovative entrepreneurship and wage protection program that will allow unemployed workers to receive unemployment insurance while they start new businesses – including nonprofit enterprises.  And employers won’t have to be as hesitant to hire new employees, because the American Jobs Act would cut the payroll tax in half for the first $5 million in wages, and temporarily eliminate employer payroll taxes on wages for new workers or raises for existing workers.  This is great news for many small business and nonprofit organizations.

  • JCC Grows (Gardens)!

    Ed. Note: Cross-posted from the blog.

    When the word community is in your middle name, it’s only natural to start gardens producing healthy, nutritious foods.  The Jewish Community Centers (JCC) Association has taken on the First Lady’s Let’s Move Faith and Communities challenge of growing community gardens. They have started JCC Grows, a healthy food and hunger-relief initiative involving the creation and/or expansion of community gardens at JCCs and JCC camps. Most of the produce grown is donated to emergency food providers to help those in need. JCC Grows also promotes fresh food collection drives and connects JCCs to Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) programs and farmers markets.

    JCC Garden 1

    The A-B-C Garden at the Jewish Community Alliance of Jacksonville, FL helps support an early childhood curriculum.

  • President Obama Directs New Atrocity Prevention Measures

    In the decades since the world first pledged “never again,” the U.S. response to mass atrocities and genocide has confronted several challenges. First, governmental engagement on atrocities and genocide often arrives late, when opportunities for prevention have been missed.  Second, senior decision-makers are often not personally engaged because there is a government-wide assumption that there is little that can or will be done. And third, too few other international players step up to try to prevent atrocities, and come under little domestic pressure to do so. As a result, too often, we and the rest of the international community have later regretted not taking diplomatic, political, economic, legal, and military steps that might have prevented the loss of tens of thousands of lives. In 2008 the Genocide Prevention Task Force, co-chaired by former Secretaries Madeleine K. Albright and William Cohen, found that preventing genocide was an “achievable goal” but one that required a degree of governmental organization that matches the kind of methodical organization that accompanies mass-killings. 

    This week, President Obama directed a comprehensive review to strengthen the United States’ ability to prevent mass atrocities. The President’s directive states plainly that: “Preventing mass atrocities and genocide is a core national security interest and a core moral responsibility of the United States of America.” The directive creates an important new tool in this effort, establishing a standing interagency Atrocities Prevention Board with the authority to develop prevention strategies and to ensure that concerns are elevated for senior decision-making so that we are better able to work with our allies and partners to be responsive to early warning signs and prevent potential atrocities. The directive recognizes that preventing mass atrocities is a responsibility that all nations share and that other countries must also be enlisted to respond to particular crises. Therefore, the directive calls for  a strategy for engaging key regional allies and partners so that they are prepared to accept greater responsibility for preventing and responding to crimes against humanity. 

    Over the past two years, the Obama Administration has devoted enormous time and energy to better equipping our Government, and the international community as a whole, to be able to respond meaningfully to potential (and actual) atrocities.  He is the first president to establish a position at the White House responsible for policy on war crimes and mass atrocity.  In Sudan, we launched a full court diplomatic press that helped ensure that the South Sudan referendum occurred on time, thereby preventing the outbreak of mass violence that would have accompanied a delay.  In Kyrgyzstan, through engagement at the highest levels, we helped bring about the creation of a formidable international commission of inquiry to investigate the causes of the ethnic killings there and to prevent relapse into conflict.  In Cote d’Ivoire, we facilitated a robust international effort to protect civilians, while maintaining firm resolve that strong-man Laurent Gbagbo had to step down.  In Libya, as civilians were being targeted by their own leader for ruthless attack, we mobilized – with unprecedented speed -- an international coalition, operating with a mandate from the Security Council and at the request of the Libyan people and the Arab League, to protect civilians endangered by Qadhaffi.  When indicators of a potential relapse into conflict emerged around the constitutional referendum in Kenya, we worked with international partners and Kenyan leaders to support a peaceful and credible process.

    We know that often holding those who have carried out mass atrocities accountable is at times our best tool to prevent future atrocities.  As such, we have engaged in an intensive effort to create a variety of international mechanisms charged with uncovering the facts and identifying those responsible for gross human rights abuses in Syria, Libya, Kyrgyzstan, Cote d’Ivoire, and have announced our commitment to accomplish the same in Burma. We have also intensified our focus on finding the world’s most wanted fugitive war criminals, mobilizing interagency focus and resources towards apprehending those who must face justice.   We offered our full support to the Government of Serbia as it successfully pursued the final remaining fugitives from the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, Ratko Mladic and Goran Hadzic, who were apprehended this year.  

    In addition to the Presidential directive, which makes clear the level of priority attached to preventing mass atrocity, we are taking another important step forward in our effort to hold accountable human rights abusers by, for the first time, barring entry into the United States of persons who organize or participate in mass atrocities, war crimes, crimes against humanity, or other serious violations of human rights.   Existing U.S. law renders specific classes of human rights violators inadmissible to the United States – such as participants in genocide, torture, or extra-judicial killings. However, before today, the United States did not have an explicit bar to admission on the basis of participation in other serious human rights or humanitarian law violations or atrocities.  The President’s Proclamation fills this gap, and by enumerating these grounds for denying admission to the United States, policymakers will have a new tool to warn groups that have carried out, or may be about to carry out crimes against humanity, war crimes, and related abuses , that their conduct falls within explicit standing bans on admission to the United States.  As such, we will be able to more effectively shame those who are organizing widespread and systematic violence against civilians based on ethnicity, religion, or other protected characteristics. In banning would-be organizers of human rights violations as well as perpetrators, it allows the United States to act expeditiously before planned atrocities metastasize into actual ones.

    We know that the steps this administration has taken are not panaceas to the horrifying violence being perpetrated around the world against civilians. Even today, we see violence against civilians from Syria to Sudan. But President Obama has directed us to scrub every option and bring as many levers as possible to bear in trying to influence the calculus of those promoting ethnic, religious and other forms of mass violence. The Obama administration takes very seriously its responsibility to do everything that we can to prevent atrocities, and -- with the President’s Directive and his Proclamation barring human rights violators from entering the United States -- President Obama has given the US government two new tools in the effort to meet this responsibility.

     Read the Fact Sheet

  • Jewish Social Justice Leaders Attend the White House Community Leaders Briefing Series

    Every Friday this summer, the White House has been opening its doors to community leaders from around the country to take part in our Community Leaders Briefing Series. The briefing series is a unique opportunity for grassroots leaders to start a two way dialogue with the White House about issues that are affecting their communities and to ensure that they are well-informed about government policies and programs and how they can use or maximize these resources. Leaders participate in interactive briefings, hear directly from White House officials about the issues that are affecting communities across the country, and learn more about the President’s priorities and initiatives from the people that work on them every day.

    On July 29th, the White House hosted 170 members of the Jewish Social Justice Roundtable, who are making great strides in Jewish communities across the nation. The Roundtable is a collaboration of 20 organizations working to elevate the role of social justice in the Jewish community and to affect societal change that cuts across lines of race and faith. During the day’s activities, these leaders heard from Valerie Jarrett and other administration officials about the importance of grassroots leadership, and shared their concerns in a listening session with Director of Public Engagement Jon Carson. Below, you can read the reactions and feedback from a few of these extraordinary leaders, who are committed to continuing Friday’s conversation in their own communities.

  • Jewish Community Roundtable in Silicon Valley

    On Friday, June 25, I had the pleasure to lead a White House Outreach Roundtable in Los Gatos, California, where I met with an impressive group of community leaders from Silicon Valley synagogues, the Jewish Federation, interfaith working groups and transit providers. 

    The discussion focused on improving transportation options for older Americans who can no longer drive, which is a top area of concern for local Jewish congregations.  The service providers in the area report the demand for transit and ride services greatly exceed the supply, especially in more rural areas.

    We also discussed ways that communities could encourage more walking and biking and make local streets safer for pedestrians and cyclists of all ages through better street design, using many proven low-cost solutions like prioritizing pedestrian crossings through better traffic light timing and street markings.