Blog Posts Related to the American Jewish Community

  • Rosh Hashanah Greetings From the White House

    Shanah Tovah from the White House!  At sundown on Wednesday evening, the Jewish community here in the United States and all over the world will begin celebrating Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. 

    Over the course of the High Holidays, we reflect on the past year and recommit ourselves to our core values.  This year, the American Jewish community had the opportunity to do this as Jews and as Americans.  That is because Rosh Hashanah this year falls just one week after our entire nation had the occasion to reflect on our values during the historic 50th anniversary of the March on the Washington. 

     In his 2013 video message for the High Holy Days, President Obama says:

    “Fifty years ago last week, Rabbi Joachim Prinz stood with Dr. King on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.  Representing the thousands of Jews there that day, he told the marchers, “When God created man, he created him as everybody's neighbor. Neighbor is not a geographic term. It is a moral concept.”

    “For millions of Jews, this moral concept is at the heart of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.  As the high holidays begin, it’s a chance not just to celebrate with friends and family, but to ask some of life’s most piercing questions.  Am I treating strangers with kindness?  Am I living not just for myself, but for others?  Am I doing my part to repair the world?  Where we fall short, the New Year is a new opportunity to get things right. 

    “And where we still have work to do, the New Year is a chance to reaffirm our commitments.  At home, we must continue building an economy that gives all people willing to work hard a fair shot at a middle-class life.  Beyond our borders, we must stand for the security of our allies, even as we take new steps in the pursuit of peace.  I was proud to visit Israel earlier this year to renew the unbreakable bond between our two countries, and to talk directly with young Israelis about the future we share. 

     “Just like the generations that came before us, we live in challenging times.  But I know that if we work together we can make this moment one of hope for all our neighbors – in America, in Israel, and around the world.  In that spirit, Michelle and I wish you and your family a sweet, happy, healthy, and peaceful New Year.”

     Matt Nosanchuk is an Associate Director in the White House Office of Public Engagement

  • Middle East Peace Negotiators Come To Washington

    President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden meet with Israeli and Palestinian negotiators

    President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden meet with Israeli and Palestinian negotiators to discuss the formal resumption of direct Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, in the Oval Office, July 30, 2013. To the President's left are, Palestinian Chief Negotiator Saeb Erekat and Mohammed Shtayyeh. To the Vice President's right are Israeli Justice Minister Tzipi Livni and Yitzhak Molho. (Official White House Photo by Chuck Kennedy)

    At the invitation of Secretary of State John Kerry, Israeli and Palestinian negotiators traveled to Washington this week to formally resume direct final status negotiations. Justice Minister Tzipi Livni and Yitzhak Molcho represented the Israelis, and Chief Negotiator Saeb Erekat and Mohammad Shtayyeh represented the Palestinians.

    As the negotiations got underway on Monday, President Obama offered his support, noting:

    “The most difficult work of these negotiations is ahead, and I am hopeful that both the Israelis and Palestinians will approach these talks in good faith and with sustained focus and determination. The United States stands ready to support them throughout these negotiations, with the goal of achieving two states, living side by side in peace and security.”

    On Tuesday morning, President Obama and Vice President Biden met with the negotiators at the White House.  The President conveyed his appreciation to both sides for the leadership and courage they have shown in coming to the table, and to directly express his personal support for final status negotiations towards the goal of achieving two states living side by side in peace and security. 

    This resumption of talks began in Washington on Monday night with an Iftar dinner hosted for the negotiators by Secretary Kerry at the U.S. Department of State, and also attended by the newly appointed U.S. Special Envoy  for Israeli-Palestinian Negotiations, Ambassador Martin Indyk.  

    U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry hosts an Iftar

    U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry hosts an Iftar for Israeli Justice Minister Tzipi Livni and Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat at the U.S. Department of State in Washington, DC, on July 29, 2013 (Photo Courtesy of the U.S. Department of State)

    Negotiations continued on Tuesday and concluded with a press conference at which Secretary Kerry emphasized that the goal of the negotiations is to reach a final status agreement over the course of the next nine months. He also announced that the parties will meet again within the next two weeks either in Israel or the Palestinian Territories.

    “I think everyone involved here believes that we cannot pass along to another generation the responsibility of ending a conflict that is in our power to resolve in our time,” said Secretary Kerry in his remarks on Tuesday. “So while I understand the skepticism, I don’t share it and I don’t think we have time for it. . . .  A viable two-state solution is the only way this conflict can end, and there is not much time to achieve it, and there is no other alternative.”

    In his remarks, Kerry reiterated the U.S. commitment to Israel’s security:  

    “Our commitment to Israel’s security is why President Obama’s Administration has done more than any before it to strengthen our unshakeable bond and why General John Allen is on the ground working to ensure Israel’s security needs will be met. . . .”

    He also underscored the benefits of peace, stating:  “We can also envision a day when Israelis actually can truly live in peace – not just the absence of conflict, but a full and a lasting peace with Arab and Muslim nations, an end once and for all to the pernicious attacks on Israel’s legitimacy. . . .  And we cannot forget that the security of Israel will also benefit Palestinians next door.”

    In her remarks, Justice Minister Livni thanked President Obama for his dedication to the peace process, recalling his historic trip to Israel in March, which served to jump-start the process that led to this week’s meetings:

    “I also want to thank President Obama for his personal commitment to peace and to Israel’s security.  The powerful impression left by the President’s last visit to Israel still remains in the hearts of the Israeli people,” said Minister Livni.

    In his remarks, Chief Negotiator Erekat expressed his appreciation to the President and Secretary Kerry:

    “I would like to extend our deepest appreciation to President Barack Obama and to you, Secretary Kerry, for your relentless efforts and unwavering commitment to achieve a just, comprehensive, lasting peace between Palestinians and Israelis.”

    Read and watch more of Tuesday’s remarks here.

    Matt Nosanchuk is an Associate Director of the White House Office of Public Engagement.

  • Jewish American Heritage Month

    Last week, the White House celebrated the eighth annual Jewish American Heritage Month. As President Obama declared in his proclamation honoring this month, “More than 350 years have passed since Jewish refugees first made landfall on American shores. We take this month to celebrate the progress that followed, and the bright future that lies ahead.”

    Over 150 students, organization representatives, and leaders from the American Jewish community gathered in the White House to enjoy a staging of the “Gefilte Fish Chronicles: The Musical”, which was adapted to a musical production following its successful 2007 television premiere. “The Gefilte Fish Chronicles” speaks to the Jewish American experience and to the rich traditions and stories that American Jews have kept alive across the generations.

    The audience also had the opportunity to hear from Senior Advisor to the President, Valerie Jarrett, who spoke about the President’s commitment to the American Jewish community and from Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who was the driving force behind JAHM’s inception in 2006. We thank them for their participation in this unique event.

    Zachary Kelly is Special Assistant to the Deputy Chief of Staff and works with the Office of Public Engagement on Jewish outreach.

  • Bending the Arc Toward Justice

    A hundred years ago, a Chicago lawyer named Sigmund Livingston raised his voice and launched a movement. He declared his mission was “to stop the defamation of the Jewish people and to secure justice and fair treatment to all.” Today, we congratulate the Anti-Defamation League on its 100th anniversary.

    We all know the quote that “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” But there’s a corollary:  that arc bends faster when it is pushed, and the ADL has always pushed. The ADL was there at the height of World War II, defying hate groups and fighting against the brutal onslaught of anti-Semitism. The ADL was there in the 1950s, during Brown v. Board of Education, fighting for desegregation. And the ADL was there pushing for the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

    Today, we are proud to work with the ADL on a wide range of issues, as we follow President Obama’s charge to work towards a country that is “more fair, more just, and more equal for every single child of God.”

    With enormous support from ADL, the President signed the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act into law. This act extends the coverage of the Federal hate crimes law to include attacks based on the victim’s actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity.

    President Obama upheld this country’s highest ideals by repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” As he put it, “we are not a nation that says, ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.’ We are a nation that says, ‘Out of many, we are one.’”

    Together with the ADL, we stand against bullying.  In 2011, we held the first-ever White House Conference on Bullying Prevention, attended by the President and First Lady. The ADL has been out front in equipping families and educators in the fight against bullying, both in person and online.

    Together with the ADL, we stand with the Dreamers who were brought into this country as children, many of whom found out as adults they weren’t citizens when they tried to apply for a job and for college.

    In his ADL address in 1963, President Kennedy described citizenship to the United States as “a proud privilege.” He spoke of the millions of people who left other countries, other familiar scenes, to come here to build a new life and make a new opportunity for themselves and their children. In fifty years, that American dream has remained unchanged.

    Together with the ADL, we stand with women and girls. Just a couple of months ago, President Obama signed a bill that both strengthened and reauthorized the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). Thanks to this bipartisan agreement, thousands of women, men, girls and boys across the country who are victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, dating violence, and stalking will be able to access the resources they need to help heal from their trauma.

    Together with the ADL, we stand against hate. President Obama made clear during his recent trip to Israel that anti-Semitism has no place in this world. He heeded the words of Dr. King, that “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” That’s why we must defend justice so vigorously. That’s why we cannot tolerate anti-Semitism or any hate, at home or abroad.

    President Obama said, “Not in the classrooms of children. Not in the corridors of power. And let us never forget the link between the two. For our sons and daughters are not born to hate, they are taught to hate. So let us fill their young hearts with the same understanding, the same compassion we hope others have for them.”

    And together, we congratulate the ADL on their anniversary, and look forward to working with the ADL toward the day when our world is free from hate.

    Valerie B. Jarrett is a Senior Advisor to President Barack Obama. She oversees the Offices of Public Engagement and Intergovernmental Affairs and chairs the White House Council on Women and Girls.

  • Passover Family Recipes in the Spotlight

    During this festival of freedom, Jews gather around the Seder table to engage in one of the oldest traditions in the Jewish faith. One of the highlights of the Passover holiday is, of course, the food. On Passover, food assumes a special role: it not only nourishes; it educates. As families gather around the Seder table, much of the night’s discussion revolves around the Seder plate. The Seder plate, or the ke’ara, holds six traditional items: the marror, lettuce, shank bone, egg, charoset, and the vegetable.  These foods have played a central role in the Passover Seder throughout generations, allowing Jews today to connect with their forbearers from thousands of years ago.

    As President Obama said in his Passover statement this year:

    "Passover is a celebration of the freedom our ancestors dreamed of, fought for, and ultimately won. But even as we give thanks, we are called to look to the future. We are reminded that responsibility does not end when we reach the promised land, it only begins. As my family and I prepare to once again take part in this ancient and powerful tradition, I am hopeful that we can draw upon the best in ourselves to find the promise in the days that lie ahead, meet the challenges that will come, and continue the hard work of repairing the world. Chag sameach." --President Obama

    As in previous years, we have compiled recipes for Passover from members of the White House staff. These dishes, like the foods displayed on the Seder plate, inspire those who enjoy them to remember their own family histories. Whether eliciting warm memories from childhood or a grandparent’s experience in a foreign land, or serving as an expression of a unique ethnic or cultural background, these foods bring further meaning and power to this special holiday. Chag Sameach.

  • President Obama's Passover Message

    This week, President Obama completed his historic trip to Israel, the West Bank and Jordan. During the trip he reiterated the unbreakable bonds between the United States and Israel and America’s unwavering commitment to Israel’s security as well as the importance of security, peace and prosperity for all in the region.

    President Obama also touched upon the upcoming Passover holiday, the powerful symbols that it represents, and the inspiration it provides to him and to all people seeking a more just and peaceful future.

    See a statement from President Obama on Passover.

  • Vice President Biden at AIPAC Policy Conference 2013

    This week, Vice President Biden spoke at the AIPAC Policy Conference here in DC.

    He emphasized the Administration's deep commitment to Israel and its security, noting that no President has done as much to physically secure the State of Israel as President Obama. "He has directed close coordination, strategically and operationally, between our government and our Israeli partners, including our political, military and intelligence leadership," the Vice President said.

    Vice President Biden Meets With Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak

    Vice President Joe Biden meets with Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak, after the Vice President spoke at the AIPAC conference, at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in Washington, DC, Mar. 4, 2013 (Official White House Photo by David Lienemann)

    Vice President Biden also talked about the peace process:

    "We are under no illusions about how difficult it will be to achieve.  Even some of you in the audience said, why do we even talk about it anymore?  Well, it's going to require hard steps on both sides.  But it's in all of our interests -- Israel's interest, the United States' interest, the interest of the Palestinian people.  We all have a profound interest in peace."

    There were some laughs, too. On the subject of President Obama's upcoming trip to the region right before Passover, the Vice President noted: "I have to admit I’m a little jealous that he gets to be the one to say 'this year in Jerusalem,' but I’m the Vice President. I’m not the President. So I -- when I told him that, I’m not sure he thought I was serious or not."

    Read Vice President BIden's full remarks here.

  • Happy Purim!

    The White House Office of Public Engagement sends its best wishes to all those celebrating Purim on Sunday. On this holiday, we read the words of the Megillah, which tells of the miraculous salvation of the Jewish people. We recall the courage of Queen Esther and her cousin Mordechai, whose bold actions reversed an evil plot, transforming a day of impending sorrow into a day of happiness. From these heroic individuals, we learn the qualities of leadership, and what it means to sacrifice for a cause larger than oneself.

    President Obama echoed this very message in his recent remarks at the presentation of the 2012 Presidential Citizens Medals:

    “We’ve all got busy lives. We’ve got bills to pay. We’ve got kids to carpool, errands to get done. And in the midst of all the running around, it would be easy -- and even understandable -- for folks to just focus on themselves, to worry about our own lives, to look down the street and see a neighbor in need and say, ‘I’d like to help but I’ve got problems of my own.’ To look across town at a community that’s in despair and say, ‘That’s just too big a challenge for us to be able to take on.’

    That’s not who we are. That’s not what we do. That’s not what built this country. In this country, we look out for one another. We get each other’s backs, especially in times of hardship or challenge.”

    We continue to hold those same values to look out for our neighbors, and to work together, collectively, for a better future. On Purim, Jewish people reaffirm their commitment to their faith, heritage, and their communities. By rejoicing with family and friends and by sharing with the less fortunate among us, we keep enduring traditions and values alive. Let us reflect on the central lesson of Purim by looking beyond ourselves, so that we too can turn the trials of our communities into sources of light and joy for all. Chag Purim Sameach.

    Zachary Kelly handles Jewish Outreach for the Office of Public Engagement