Blog Posts Related to the American Jewish Community

  • President Obama Offers Easter and Passover Greetings

    In a special video message, President Obama offered his warmest wishes to people across the country and around the world celebrating the Easter and Passover holidays.

    Last night, the President and First Lady hosted a Seder here at the White House to mark the start of the Jewish holiday of Passover. Tomorrow, the First Family will celebrate Easter, reflecting on Christ's sacrifice and embracing the hope that this sacred season represents.

    "Whether we’re Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Sikh, Hindu, or Buddhist; whether faith in God shapes our daily lives completely or not at all, we believe that with common effort, and shared sacrifice, a brighter future is just around the bend," the President said. "And we embrace our obligation to do something meaningful, something lasting, with the precious time we’ve been allotted on this Earth."

    The President also encouraged all Americans to "pause and give thanks for the chance to live in a country where everyone has the right to worship and pray and love as they choose."

    Watch the President's Easter and Passover greetings below:

    Watch on YouTube

  • Celebrating Passover at the White House

    President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama host a Passover Seder dinner in the Old Family Dining Room

    President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama host a Passover Seder dinner in the Old Family Dining Room of the White House, April 3, 2015. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

    For the seventh year in a row, President and Mrs. Obama hosted the annual White House Seder. The Seder provides an opportunity for the First Family to join in retelling the story of the Israelites’ arduous journey through the desert from slavery in Egypt to liberation in the Promised Land. In recounting the story, they joined their guests in performing the Seder rituals and followed the Haggadah’s command that we see ourselves as though we personally were liberated from Egypt. And they acknowledged how this story has inspired generations of Americans in the struggle for civil rights.

    This year’s Seder continued a new tradition of having a guest chef. Susan Barocas, one of the inaugural guest chefs from last year – and Washington-based filmmaker and foodie – returned again this year to assist White House Chef Cris Comerford with the meal and brought new additions to the menu, including Moroccan Haroset Balls from the Sephardic tradition, and dishes emphasizing seasonal ingredients, including beets, squash, spring onions, radishes, arugula, potatoes, and sweet potatoes. These recipes were combined with family recipes provided by several of the Seder’s attendees.

  • Chief of Staff Denis McDonough Underscores America’s Solidarity with France, and with Jewish Communities Across the World

    On Tuesday, January 13, White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough joined Members of Congress; France’s Ambassador to the U.S., His Excellency Gérard Araud; the American Jewish Committee (AJC); and hundreds of people from the local Jewish community and many other Jewish organizations at “A Gathering of Solidarity and Remembrance With the People of France and Its Jewish Community” at Congregation Adas Israel in Washington, D.C.

    His remarks underscored our nation’s solidarity with the people of France and with Jewish communities throughout the world following the terrorist attacks in Paris, as well as our commitment to combat the rising tide of anti-Semitism in Europe and around the world.

    McDonough’s remarks as delivered follow:

    Thank you for the opportunity to join you this evening to pay tribute to the victims and heroes from last week’s terrorist attacks in France. On behalf of the President, I am here to affirm our nation’s solidarity with the French people and the Jewish community in France and around the world, to condemn in the strongest terms the violent attacks of last week and to remember the precious lives of the fallen.

    The violence, hatred and intolerance that motivated these senseless attacks upon people going about their daily lives – at work at Charlie Hebdo or at their local kosher supermarket just before Sabbath, must be condemned and will be defeated.

    I’m honored to be here this evening with Ambassador Araud, AJC, the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington, the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, Alan and Judy [Gross], a couple that personifies strength and perseverance, and all of you who have come here tonight in solidarity and remembrance with our brothers and sisters in France and all of you who have come here tonight in solidarity and remembrance with our brothers and sisters in France.

    As President Obama has said, France is our oldest ally. Ours is a relationship that goes back centuries to the founding of our two great republics.  We stand in solidarity with the French people, and share a steadfast commitment to the values of liberty, free expression, coexistence, and religious freedom that were so cruelly and violently assaulted in Paris last week.

    The violent assault on the Jewish community in France that took place on Friday afternoon – as the Jewish community in Paris was in the final hours of preparing for the restfulness and peace of the Sabbath – was the latest in a series of troubling incidents in Europe and around the world that reflect a rising tide of anti-Semitism.  

    We will not waver in our commitment to combating the scourge of anti-Semitism.  This is not an issue for any single community or nation to deal with by itself. We must all do our part.  And we will.  From the President on down, you have my commitment that we will wage this fight together.

    Thank you for giving me and my colleagues the opportunity to be with you this evening.

    The Chief of Staff was joined at the service by White House colleagues, including Charlie Kupchan, NSC Senior Director for Europe; Steve Pomper, NSC Senior Director for Multilateral Affairs and Human Rights; Melissa Rogers, Executive Director of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships; and Matt Nosanchuk, NSC Director for Outreach. In addition, Julieta Valls Noyes, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs, and Ira Forman, Special Envoy to Monitor Combat Anti-Semitism, represented the State Department.

  • A Real Festival of Lights: Hanukkah at the White House 2014/5775

    On Wednesday, December 17, the President and Mrs. Obama welcomed members of the American Jewish community to the White House to celebrate Hanukkah. For the second year, they hosted two receptions in the Grand Foyer of the White House. Guests represented the breadth of the Jewish community, including leaders from a wide range of local and national Jewish organizations, religious leaders representing the various Jewish denominations, state and local elected officials, Administration officials, Members of Congress, academics, musicians, authors, and other members of the Jewish community.

    The receptions featured performances from Jewish college a cappella groups and the U.S. Marine Band. The food preparation occurred under the strict rabbinical supervision of Rabbi Levi Shemtov, Lubavitch Center of Washington (Chabad), in cooperation with the Rabbinical Council of Greater Washington.

    Watch on YouTube

  • President Obama: "Happy Hanukkah, Everybody!"

    We've koshered the kitchen and set up the menorah. And this afternoon, President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama welcomed hundreds of guests here at the White House for the second night of Hanukkah.

    Watch on YouTube

    Joined by the First Lady and Rabbi Bradley Shavit Artson of the American Jewish University in Los Angeles, President Obama retold the story of Hanukkah, "a story that took place more than 2,000 years ago, when a small group of Maccabees rose up to defeat their far more powerful oppressors."

    In the face of overwhelming odds, they reclaimed their city and the right to worship as they chose. And in their victory, they found there wasn’t enough oil to keep the flame in their temple alive. But they lit the oil they had and, miraculously, the flame that was supposed to burn for just one night burned for eight. The Hanukkah story teaches us that our light can shine brighter than we could ever imagine with faith, and it’s up to us to provide that first spark.

    The President also took time to highlight a new Hanukkah story: the return of American aid worker Alan Gross from Cuba.

  • Five Things to Know About How President Obama’s Executive Action Impacts Undocumented Immigrants

    Last week, the President took action to fix as much of our broken immigration system as possible within the scope of his existing legal authority. The President’s Immigration Accountability Executive Actions are an important step to fix our broken immigration system. Millions of undocumented immigrants who live in the shadows want to play by the rules, pay their fair share of taxes, and get right with the law. The President is taking action to fix as much of the problem as he can, while continuing to work with Congress to pass a comprehensive, bipartisan immigration reform bill.

    The President has been clear that he can’t fix the immigration system entirely on his own; whatever action he takes will not be a substitute for long-lasting solutions that only comprehensive immigration legislation can provide.

    Here are the five things that you should know about the President’s initiatives impacting undocumented immigrants in the United States.

  • Wishing You a Sweet, Happy, and Healthy New Year

    Shanah Tovah from the White House! On Wednesday evening, Jews in the United States and around the world will begin celebrating Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year.

    The High Holidays offer the Jewish community a moment of pause, a time to reflect on the previous year and recommit to the unending task of Tikkun Olam, repairing the world. Together, working with people of all faiths, we can bring greater peace and prosperity to the world in 5775.

    In his 2014 video message for the High Holidays, President Obama extends his wishes for a sweet new year and discusses why this time of year is so significant.

    Watch on YouTube

    Read the remarks: 

    Hello. As Jews across America, Israel, and the world gather together for the High Holidays, Michelle and I extend our warmest wishes to you and your families for a sweet and happy new year.

    My good friend Elie Wiesel once said that God gave human beings a secret, and that secret was not how to begin but how to begin again. These days of awe are a chance to celebrate that gift, to give thanks for the secret, the miracle of renewal.

    In synagogues and homes over the coming days, Jews will reflect on a year that carried its shares of challenges. We’ve been reminded many times that our world still needs repair. So here at home we continue the hard work of rebuilding our economy and restoring our American dream of opportunity for all. Around the world, we continue to stand for the dignity of every human being, and against the scourge of anti-Semitism, and we reaffirm the friendships and bonds that keep us strong, including our unshakeable alliance with the State of Israel.

    So let’s approach this new year with new confidence and new hope. Let’s recommit ourselves to living out the values we share as individuals and as a country. Above all, let’s embrace this God-given miracle of renewal, this extraordinary opportunity to begin again in pursuit of justice, prosperity, and peace. From my family to yours, shanah tovah.

  • National Security Advisor Susan Rice Visits Israel and the West Bank, and Joins the Embassy of Israel to Celebrate Israel Independence Day

    Ambassador Susan Rice recently took her first trip to Israel since becoming the National Security Advisor. There, she met with senior Israeli officials, including President Shimon Peres, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, National Security Advisor Yossi Cohen, and participated in the U.S.-Israel Consultative Group meeting, to discuss the close security cooperation between our two countries. Ambassador Rice also visited Palmachim Air Force Base, where she spoke of the common bonds linking the United States and Israel:

    Our two nations are forever bound by our shared history and our shared values, and every American dollar spent on Israel's security is an investment in protecting the many interests that our nations share—whether that's preventing rockets from terrorizing the Israeli people, defending against the growing ballistic missile threat in the region, or advancing our commitment to defend freedom and democracy.

    National Security Advisor Susan Rice in Israel

    (photo via U.S. Embassy Tel Aviv)

    Her full remarks at Palmachim Air Force Base can be found here.

    Ambassador Rice also met with President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah during her visit. As she did in her meetings with Israeli officials, she emphasized the importance of each side managing the current situation in a way that reduces tensions and preserves space to pursue a two-state solution when both parties are prepared to take the decisions necessary to resume substantive negotiations. While we have come to a pause in the parties' talks, the United States believes the only way to achieve lasting peace is through direct Israeli-Palestinian negotiations that lead to two viable, independent states living side-by-side in peace and security.

    National Security Advisor Susan Rice in Israel

    (photo via U.S. Embassy Tel Aviv)

    Upon returning to Washington, Ambassador Rice delivered remarks at the annual Israel Independence Day Celebration hosted by the Embassy of Israel at the Mellon Auditorium. Her full remarks as prepared, marking the State of Israel's 66th birthday, follow:

    Good evening everyone—erev tov—and happy Independence Day. This year, I've been fortunate to mark Yom Ha'atzmaut both here and in Israel, on my first trip there as President Obama's national security advisor.

    I want to thank Ambassador Dermer for inviting me to join the party today. Ron and I have spent many hours together recently. I made Ron—I think this is the right verb—schlep to Israel for my trip last week. Along with many of the most senior officials from both our countries, we had busy days of close and productive consultations.

    My most important meeting, once again, was with Prime Minister Netanyahu. In my previous job, we worked side-by-side in the muddy trenches of New York over the deeply flawed Goldstone Report and many other fights to protect Israel's legitimacy in UN forum after UN forum. On this, my most recent trip, I was proud to reaffirm and deepen the unprecedented security cooperation between our countries, and the prime minister and I had a very constructive conversation on a range of important issues.

    I was also pleased, once again, to spend time with my Israeli counterpart, National Security Adviser Yossi Cohen— as well as with one of Israel's national treasures and one of the world's global treasures, President Shimon Peres. I know President Obama is looking forward to welcoming him back to the White House next month for the umpteenth time since his first visit to the White House under President Kennedy. To both your prime minister and your president, on behalf of the United States, I reiterated President Obama's personal and unwavering commitment to Israel's peace and security.

    It was an excellent visit—and just the latest in a series of memorable visits to Israel. In particular, I was privileged to join President Obama, then still Senator Obama, on his visit to Israel in 2008—and I still remember the look of grim determination on his face when we saw the countless stacks of rockets that Hamas terrorists had fired from Gaza on the civilians of Sderot.

    But the trip I remember most vividly, the one that forever sealed my affection for Israel, was my very first visit—back when I was 14 years old. My late father sat on the board of TWA – some of you will remember such airlines only from the "Mad Men" era. So, my Dad was able to take me and my younger brother on one of the first-ever flights from Cairo to Tel Aviv just after the Camp David accords. To this day, I remember walking the Old City, visiting the original Yad Vashem, hiking the stony path up Masada, bobbing in the Dead Sea, and learning by heart the Sh'ma, which speaks of God's oneness.

    Like so many Americans, I have long felt the power of the enduring bonds between the United States and Israel. So at this reception to celebrate Israel's independence, I want to share a simple message: The United States will always be there for Israel. We will be there in those moments of silent sorrow. We will be there in the noisy bustle of normal daily life in the Jewish state. We will be there as friends and partners. And we will be there for Israel as supporters of peace, as champions of its legitimacy, and as defenders of your security.

    I was particularly moved by President Peres's Independence Day message to the Israeli people this year. Thinking back to 1948 and the newborn state, he said, "I have to admit that our dream was too small when I see the reality that was born out of it." To not just build a state after the horror of the Holocaust, to not just become a free people in an independent and democratic state in the historic homeland of the Jewish people, but to actually exceed even their own dreams—it's a stirring testament to the faith and determination of the Israeli people, passed on l'dor va'dor, from generation to generation.

    So, we will stay true to the cause of Israel's security. On Friday, I visited Palmachim Air Force Base and saw brave Israeli men and women, working alongside U.S. officers, using cutting-edge U.S. technology to ensure that Israel's air defenses remain unsurpassed. I got an up-close look at the tremendous Iron Dome and Arrow systems that have saved countless Israeli lives, with a U.S. investment that now totals nearly $900 million.

    That commitment to Israeli and U.S. security also means, as we discussed again last week, that Iran must not get a nuclear weapon. As President Obama said in Jerusalem, "America will do what we must to prevent a nuclear-armed Iran." As the United States and our P5+1 partners engage in negotiations with Iran on a long-term, comprehensive agreement that resolves the world's longstanding concerns about Iran's nuclear program, we all have a responsibility to give diplomacy a chance to succeed. But America won't be satisfied by mere words. We will only be satisfied by verifiable action from Iran. Put simply: if we are not, there will be no deal. And, as these negotiations progress, we continue to consult closely with Israel every step of the way.

    We will also stay true to the cause of peace — to working to end the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians. Even though we have reached a pause in the negotiations, we continue to encourage the parties to work and act toward a future of peace. It's worthwhile to recall the words of one the great civil rights leaders, Dr. Dorothy Height, who once said, "If the times aren't ripe, you have to ripen the times." So the United States will continue to do our part to help bring about the peaceful, hopeful future that both Israeli and Palestinian children deserve. Because, ultimately, the only path forward out of this tragic conflict is a secure, democratic, Jewish state living side-by-side in peace and security with a viable, independent Palestinian state.

    That's our commitment—and it's the mighty oak that grew from the seed planted by President Truman on May 14, 1948, when he recognized the State of Israel, at 6:11 p.m. in Washington—just 11 minutes after David Ben-Gurion declared Israel's independence at midnight in Tel Aviv. The United States was the first country to recognize Israel, and we are still honored to count ourselves as first among Israel's friends. America's commitment to the peace and security of Israel has spanned generations. It spans political parties. And it is not and never will be negotiable.

    Together, we reaffirm, in the words of Israel's Declaration of Independence, the "right of the Jewish people to be masters of their own fate, like all other nations, in their own sovereign State"—a state "based on freedom, justice and peace as envisaged by the prophets of Israel." And together, I hope that, decades from now, when we examine our efforts to forge a future of peace and security among Israel and its neighbors, we too will be able to look back at all that has been accomplished and say, with deep satisfaction, "our dream was too small."

    Thank you so much.

    National Security Advisor Susan Rice in Israel

    (photo via U.S. Embassy Tel Aviv)

    Matt Nosanchuk is Director of Outreach on the National Security Council