Remarks by the Second Gentleman at the BBYO International Convention in Dallas, Texas

February 16, 2023

[As prepared for delivery.]

SECOND GENTLEMAN DOUGLAS EMHOFF: How do you do, fellow Jewish kids?

What's up, BBYO?

This feels like halftime at the Jewish Super Bowl.

I'm here because I'm married to Kamala Harris, the first woman Vice President of the United States.

She is so happy that I am here tonight and wanted me to give you all a big shalom.

Many years ago, before I was Second Gentleman, I was a Jewish kid, just like you, from Central New Jersey.

Jersey, are you out there?

I have such fond memories of growing up Jewish.

I felt lucky to be Jewish.

I remember vividly all the amazing time spent with my family and friends at Temple Shalom in Matawan, New Jersey.

I remember being so excited I got through my Torah portion without having a panic attack.

And that's actually me in my three-piece, fake crushed velvet suit at my Bar Mitzvah.

And perhaps my proudest moment was when I was voted most athletic at my Jewish summer camp.

What I remember most is the joy of growing up Jewish.

I want all of you to experience that same joy.

And there's no organization that does more to celebrate and uplift young Jewish people than BBYO.

Here, you can be openly Jewish and proud of it.

You meet new friends and develop connections.

You also develop new skills. You learn how to be leaders.

You've traveled from all around the world, to talk about important issues impacting your lives and communities.

You're here to talk about how we can help build a better, brighter future, not just for the Jewish community, but for everyone.

You're tackling the climate crisis because we must have a clean, healthy planet.

You're discussing the issues facing democracy.

You're advocating for women's rights because women's rights truly are human rights.

You're standing up against antisemitism and hatred in all its forms because everyone should be safe, no matter their race, gender, or religion.

I became a lawyer for two reasons. One: I hated bullies and I still do. I stood up to them my whole life. And two: I became a lawyer because of "Tzedek," justice – standing up for others and fighting for what's right.

And that's why as Second Gentleman, I'm fighting against antisemitism and hatred of all kinds.

Far too many Jewish people don't feel safe to live openly and proudly.

I've spoken to young Jewish people from all around the country. They've told me how hard it feels sometimes to be young and Jewish.

Even in places where you should feel safe, like in your high school classrooms, it can feel like you are being attacked, just being who you are.

I've even heard it can feel scary to wear a Star of David necklace in public.

I know that some of you have heard anti-Jewish comments and slurs.

In my hometown of Los Angeles, there were antisemitic banners displayed over the highway.

Maybe you've seen a swastika drawn on a wall.

Maybe you've watched people you once considered your heroes spew hatred towards Jews.

And now with social media, this hatred can feel like it is everywhere.

So, what can we do about it?

First, I want you to know that I have your back. The President has your back. My wife, the Vice President has your back.

We all have your back.

No one is fighting harder for your right to live openly, proudly and without fear than President Biden and Vice President Harris.

Our administration is currently working on a national plan to combat the rise in antisemitism.

And we need your help.

Because you are the next generation of leaders.

We need you in this fight.

When people ask the Vice President what she's most excited about for the future, she says: our young leaders because she knows you are paving the way.

Pushing back against antisemitism and hate will require all of us to get involved.

It's not just about us as Jews.

It's about all of us.

We are seeing hate every day, targeting too many communities.

The same hatred that fuels antisemitism is often the same hatred directed at other ethnic or religious minority groups, immigrants, or the LGBTQI+ community.

As the Vice President always says, we must build coalitions — across all groups — to combat hate.

So, stay engaged and share your ideas.

Use your voices to speak out and speak up.

You belong at the table.

And make sure you bring others to the table too.

I know it's hard right now, but I also know that we all take pride in our Jewish identity. We cannot let anyone stop us from celebrating who we are.

I felt proud when the Vice President and I hung the first ever mezuzah on the door of the Vice President's Residence. Our entire family was there. Honestly, I think it was the only time I have seen my father cry.

I felt proud when the Vice President and I hosted the first ever Passover Seder in our home.

I felt proud when I spoke at the first ever High Holidays Reception hosted at the White House and shared how my grandmother would always burn the brisket. While it was burnt, it was still so good.

And I feel proud when I meet with students and young Jewish people across the country who are celebrating who they are and where they come from. Young people just like you.

Just like when I was younger, some of my favorite moments of being Second Gentleman, have been when I have celebrated our Jewish traditions and shared our values with the world.

I want everyone to know the story of the Jewish people. It's a story of people who continue to persevere. Who time and time again, never stopped hoping and never stopped believing in the promise of a greater future. Despite all of the odds, we are still here.

My ancestors, who fled from Poland in the 1900's for their lives and for their freedom, would never have dreamed that their descendant would be working in the White House, as the first Jewish spouse of an American president or vice president.

That is the story of our people. That is the story of America.

That is the story you all are now continuing.

So, if there's one thing you take away from me it's this: always live openly, proudly and loudly as Jews. Do not be afraid to be who you are.

Live without fear.

Thank you so much.

Doug Emhoff, Remarks by the Second Gentleman at the BBYO International Convention in Dallas, Texas Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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