As Prepared For Delivery:
Hello, everybody. On behalf of President Biden and Vice President Harris, I’m honored to join you in marking this Jewish American Heritage Month. And, I’m equally honored to pay tribute to a giant of the Jewish community—and a mighty friend and ally of mine—Abe Foxman.
As President Biden said in his proclamation earlier this month, “the Jewish American experience is a story of faith, fortitude, and progress. It is a quintessential American experience.” It’s the kind of experience that makes a Holocaust survivor into one of America’s most prominent Jewish advocates, or sees three kids from Brooklyn become the Senate Majority Leader, the Secretary of Treasury, and the first Second Gentleman of the United States.
Yet, even as we celebrate this heritage of aspiration and accomplishment, we know that the American Jewish experience remains shaped by bigotry and tragedy, by ignorance and injustice. From Poway to Pittsburgh, in recent years we have been reminded again and again that combatting the evils of anti-Semitism and hate requires constant vigilance and unceasing effort.
Few have taken up that challenge like Abe Foxman. In his half century at the ADL and beyond, Abe has done righteous battle against the forces of prejudice and intolerance. I had the privilege of joining Abe in the trenches during some tough fights at the United Nations. Abe’s tenacity and his bluntness are legendary, but so are his loyalty and his kindness. During several difficult moments in my career, Abe has been there with both a private word of encouragement and a public expression of support. I’m just sorry that this virtual event has deprived me of one of Abe’s great hugs.
And, while Abe is best known as a fierce defender of Jews and of Israel, his advocacy extends well beyond his own immediate community. Long before it was popular or common to do so, Abe stood staunchly for the rights of LGBT people, changing hearts and minds across the country. When the ADL expresses solidarity with those who insist that Black Lives Matter, or speaks out against the ugly surge in anti-Asian attacks, it is carrying on Abe’s encompassing legacy. Abe has seemingly never forgotten that it was a Catholic woman who rescued and raised him as a young boy in war-torn Europe. His life and his life’s work remind us that—especially in times of crisis—we must look to our shared humanity to move forward.
At Abe’s ADL farewell dinner, I noted that Abe may have been shaped by history, but he is defined by hope. For him, every day is not just an act of optimism that tomorrow will be better, but an expression of faith that we can make it so.
I’m proud that this faith finds expression in the Biden Administration as well. As we confront the deep scars of a pandemic and a fragile economic recovery, and as we reckon with a climate under threat and the painful stain of racial injustice, we believe that our country can build back better than before. We’re committed to that belief across the board, whether that is reinvesting in our infrastructure, embedding principles of equity in all that we do, or ensuring that everyone is treated with dignity and respect—no matter what they look like, whom they love, or how they worship.
We absolutely have work to do. But if anyone knows the progress that is possible, it’s the man who has spent his eight decades living those words of Torah, tzedek tzedek tirdof . “Justice, justice you shall pursue.” So, Abe, thank you for your service and for your friendship—and mazel tov on all that you’ve already achieved in your remarkable life, with much more to come.