New York – “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.Join our WhatsApp group
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Watch below as Obama celebrates May 17 Jewish Heritage Month.
Not bad for a band of believers who have always been tested from the moment 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 our world.”
Those were the words of President Barak Obama at the White House yesterday. The President was hosting a reception honoring Jewish American Heritage Month which was attended by well over three hundred people, including many from our community. Jewish Heritage Month was spearheaded by Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who was a driving force behind the Congressional resolution that declared every May as Jewish American Heritage Month. By all accounts, it was a tremendous success.
Contrast this with the scene at the White House some 68 years ago, when over 400 Rabbis ‘marched on Washington’ on October 6, 1943. That delegation of Rabbinical leaders was desperately trying to draw attention to the plight of European Jewry during the Holocaust.
They were not received warmly. Then Vice President Henry Wallace reluctantly met with the Rabbis while FDR himself reportedly left the building through a rear exit in order to avoid them. The Rabbis were gravely disappointed and angered by his cold and uncaring response to their concerns. And the murdering of Jews continued.
The march attracted much media attention back then, focusing on the insulting dismissal of these Rabbinical leaders. The Washington Times Herald headline read: “Rabbis Report Cold Welcome At the White House.
Compare that to yesterday’s Associated Press headline which stated: Obama Honors Jewish Contributions to US At Jewish American Heritage Month Reception. In his remarks, the President noted that Jewish Americans “persevered despite unspeakable discrimination and adversity at times.”
I bring this to your attention so that you can fully appreciate the contrast between these two Presidential actions. This should not be taken for granted. It is indicative of a distinct atmospheric change that has occurred over the years. It has enabled our community to be recognized as part and parcel of the American fabric and yet lauded as a community of faith.
Certainly, yesterday’s event could be seen as a public relations maneuver on the part of the President, who is of course seeking re-election. And cynics among us will inevitably point out that it served as a golden opportunity for him to score points with Jewish voters.
But for me, yesterday’s event signified something more. In 1943, Jews were considered persona non grata at the White House. Fast forward to the present, and the Jewish community is celebrated for our everlasting contributions and accomplishments. We are being heralded for being instrumental in helping to shape this great nation. This is even more poignant when we realize that yesterday’s event occurred mere hours after the President hosted King Abdullah of Jordan.
That sends a very clear and strong message to me. I feel that the President’s sentiments are sincere and that he recognizes the unique role of our people from time immemorial.
Let’s embrace this message regardless of our politics and regardless of our opinions on the President’s policies. Let’s take pride in our heritage and bask in the glow of the many achievements for which we are being applauded. Let’s be grateful that we are living in a malchus shel chesed that allows us to be observant Jews and proud Americans simultaneously, without one contradicting the other. And let’s continue to prove ourselves as upstanding citizens who are contributing our talents and our skills and are helping to make this country great.
This is the lesson that I learned from yesterday’s event at the White House.
Ezra Friedlander is Chief Executive Officer of The Friedlander Group, a New York City and Washington, DC, based Public Affairs Company.