Remarks by the Second Gentleman at Sixth And I's MLK Shabbat: Visions Of Freedom And Justice

January 12, 2024

Sixth and I Synagogue

[As Prepared for Delivery.]


It's great to be back. I've had the honor of attending services at Sixth and I in the past.

This is a special place where people can come together and build community.

Hello, everyone, and Shabbat Shalom.

Tonight, we are gathered to honor the powerful legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Dr. King fought tirelessly for the equal dignity and opportunity of every person.

He and his legacy have always meant a lot to the Vice President and me. As two lawyers, we are committed to fulfilling his mission of justice – tzedek – for everyone regardless of their race, faith, or background.

And I am grateful to Sixth and I for honoring that legacy and commitment to justice tonight. This event really embodies the work that we must do to eliminate antisemitism and hate, bring people together and honor our diverse but shared backgrounds.

When we moved into the Vice President's Residence, one of the first things we did was affix a mezuzah on the front door.

It was important to us to proudly tell the world that for the first time ever, a Jewish person was living there.

We chose a mezuzah from The Temple – a historic synagogue in Atlanta that was known to have deep ties to Dr. King and the Ebenezer Baptist Church where he pastored.

Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, the Temple worked with civil rights leaders and faith-based organizations to desegregate Atlanta.

Last Hanukkah, we also picked a menorah from Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, who had a deep friendship with Dr. King and marched alongside him at Selma.

To the Vice President and I, the mezuzah and menorah represent the long history of friendship, collaboration, and solidarity between the Jewish community and the Black community.

A connection based on a deep commitment to justice and our vision for the future.

The Civil Rights Movement laid the path for the march we are on today.

A path towards a more equal and just nation where no one is targeted for who they are or what they believe.

Since day one of the Biden-Harris Administration, the Vice President, and I have made it a priority to fight against all forms of hate and discrimination.

I have traveled across the country and hosted roundtables with leaders of different faiths.

I've worked closely with different communities to take action against anti-Asian hate, Antisemitism, Islamophobia, and racism of all kinds.

And last May, the Biden-Harris Administration announced the first-ever National Strategy to Counter Antisemitism.

We got right to work implementing the plan.

And after October 7th, our Administration was prepared to respond to the rise in hate that followed, because all of us – including our community – had already put in the work.

Since October 7th, the Department of Education updated the Civil Rights Title VI complaint form to clarify protections for students and ensure protection from faith-based discrimination.

I've met with students and university leaders on their campuses.

I traveled to Cornell and met with Jewish students in the kosher dining hall that had been a target of antisemitic threats. I heard directly from them about the challenges they are dealing with.

They feel afraid and alone. Just like I know how many of us are feeling these days — unmoored.

We must do everything we can to overcome this epidemic of hate that seeks to poison our society and divide our nation.

That's one of the reasons President Biden decided to run for office.

You all remember Charlottesville, white nationalists marching through the streets with tiki torches in their hands, chanting, "Jews will not replace us."

Time and time again, we see how hate is interconnected.

The same hate that fuels antisemitism has often been leveled against other ethnic and religious groups.

In 2022, a white supremist stole 10 innocent Black lives and injured three at the Tops Grocery Store in Buffalo, New York.

The shooter targeted them simply because of the color of their skin.

He was motivated by racist and antisemitic beliefs.

The Vice President and I visited the grocery store and mourned with the community. It's a day I will never forget.

Alongside this rise in hate, we are facing horrific attacks on our fundamental freedoms — on reproductive rights, on voting rights, and on LGBTQ+ rights.

These attacks bear a disturbing resemblance to those that Dr. King and the Civil Rights Movement bravely fought against.

The Vice President has been traveling the country mobilizing people to come together to fight back against these threats.

As Dr. King understood, in order for true progress to be won, we will all need to work together.

We must stand together with people of all faiths and backgrounds to address hate-fueled violence.

We need to continue to build bridges and strengthen coalitions to tackle injustice and inequality.

So, in the spirit of Dr. King and our ancestors who came before us, let us find strength in each other and unite against those who would seek to divide us and perpetuate injustice and hate.

Thank you.

Doug Emhoff, Remarks by the Second Gentleman at Sixth And I's MLK Shabbat: Visions Of Freedom And Justice Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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