Reflections From a White House Visit

Posted on October 20, 2022 In News, Op-ed

By Nathan Diament | October 20, 2022

I have been privileged to attend many Jewish gatherings at the White House under Republican and Democratic administrations over the years.

Sometimes it is for serious business. Last month, I attended two White House meetings on combating hate-fueled violence and keeping our shuls, and other houses of worship, more secure.

And sometimes it’s for a celebration. A few weeks ago, President Joe Biden hosted American Jewry’s leaders to mark the new Jewish year. As we depart the month of Tishrei and return to “regular” weeks of work and school, some reflections are worth taking along with us.

At the Rosh Hashanah reception, President Biden quoted former Chief Rabbi of England Rabbi Jonathan Sacks and spoke passionately about fighting antisemitism. We enjoyed a kosher buffet and a surprise performance by the master violinist, Itzhak Perlman, who moved everyone present with a heartfelt rendition of the High Holiday prayer, Avinu Malkeinu.

As I stood there, joining everyone present in spontaneously singing the words in an undertone, I reflected on the meaning of the lyrics and the poignancy of the moment

Our Father, our King, annul the intentions of our enemies.

Our Father, our King, do it for the sake of those who were slain for Your holy Name.

Jews have been hated and harassed throughout history. From the Romans to the Crusades, from the Spanish Inquisition to the blood libels of Europe, from the pogroms to the Holocaust, Jewish history is stained with the blood and tears of its people.

Each time I attend a White House event, I pause to appreciate that, for centuries, Jews were rarely invited to the palace or the seat of government by the rulers of their adopted lands. True, there were individual Jews throughout history who enjoyed the trust of various statesmen and royalty, but they were the exception, not the rule. And many of those stories did not end happily ever after.

Even in the “golden medina”—the golden land that is America, Jews were not always welcomed with open arms. In fact, quite the opposite.

Last month, the day after PBS broadcast a Ken Burns documentary about America’s response—or tragic one—to the Shoah, I sat in the Old Executive Building offices with fellow religious leaders for a roundtable on protecting houses of worship. It was not lost on me that those same offices used to house the U.S. State Department, where certain American officials worked to deny Jews refuge from Nazi death camps. Andrew Meier writes in Politico about Treasury Secretary Henry Morgenthau, Jr.’s dogged effort to save European Jewry in 1943 and the U.S. State Department’s stonewalling. When Morgenthau’s underlings at Treasury dug into the matter, they found a deliberate trail of subterfuge bent on keeping news of Europe’s mass murders from hitting the United States.

We now know today that Assistant Secretary of State Breckenridge Long—a man who described Hitler’s “Mein Kampf” as “eloquent in opposition to Jewry and to Jews as exponents of Communism and chaos”—ran an “underground movement…to let the Jews be killed.”

I confess, it warms my heart knowing Breckenridge Long would have hated the idea of Jews gathering in his old office space to discuss strategies for stopping men like him.

Antisemitism in the United States is not new. As we return to our workplaces and classrooms and are more in touch daily with news and social media feeds, the surge in antisemitism faced today by the American Jewish community is terribly worrisome. We at the Orthodox Union are committed to combating it and ensuring our community’s safety.

Nevertheless, we must not be consumed by worry and fear. Just a few weeks ago, the president of the United States extolled the Jewish contribution to this country and, I am sure for the first time in history, Avinu Malkeinu was prayed in the White House.

American Jews face many challenges, but we must appreciate the blessings we have—from the Almighty and people of goodwill—to live in this nation where such an event can take place; it is a bellwether of our blessings far more than those challenges.

Source: Jewish Link