Remarks by the Second Gentleman at the Lighting Ceremony of the National Menorah

December 07, 2023

[As Prepared for Delivery.]

SECOND GENTLEMAN DOUGLAS EMHOFF: Thank you, Rabbi Shemtov for that introduction and for bringing us all together.

Congratulations to the students on your incredible accomplishment.

And thank you to "The President's Own" United States Marine Band for playing for us tonight.

On behalf of President Biden, Vice President Harris, and the First Lady, I want to wish everyone a Happy Hanukkah!

Normally this is a time of celebration and joy.

I want us to celebrate Hannukah.

I know that seems a little farfetched for some of you.

I know you're in pain. I'm in pain.

I know we're feeling unmoored and afraid.

We have not seen anything like this moment and I know it's scary.

Just look at the news these past few days.

What have we seen?

The presidents of some of our most elite universities were unable to denounce calling for the genocide of Jews as antisemitic.

The lack of moral clarity is unacceptable.

We've seen a restaurant owner accused of genocide because he's Jewish.

Students afraid to go to class. We've seen it in our markets, synagogues, and in our streets.

Let's be clear: When Jews are targeted because of their beliefs or identity, and when Israel is singled out because of anti-Jewish hatred, that is antisemitism, and it must be condemned.

Condemned unequivocally and without context.

I've spent the last couple of months speaking out publicly on this crisis of antisemitism.

I've also been reaching out privately to many people just to check in and see how they are feeling.

The common denominator of these conversations is that we're feeling alone and we're in pain.

But we also talk about rededicating and recommitting ourselves to our pride and love of being Jewish.

And that, I believe, is the meaning of Hanukkah.

I want you to know President Biden, Vice President Harris, and the entire Administration have your back.

This Administration and our community put the work in, so we now have the tools to meet this moment.

Last December, we convened a roundtable with Jewish leaders at the White House to discuss the growing threat of antisemitism. Some of you in the audience tonight were there.

Afterwards, President Biden stood up an Interagency, all-of-government task force to address this epidemic of hate.

In May, the Biden-Harris Administration announced the first-ever National Strategy to Counter Antisemitism and immediately began its implementation.

And that is why we were ready to engage and act at this perilous and pivotal time.

We are taking action.

As attacks increased on college campuses, Secretary of Education Cardona and I met with leaders of major Jewish organizations. Again, some of you are here tonight.

And now the Department of Education is taking action to ensure colleges protect their students.

President Biden and Vice President Harris have also been working to ensure Israel has the support it needs. Because of their leadership, more than 100 hostages, including four Americans, are home.

We will continue to do all we can to reunite the hostages with their family members.

I personally know how important this issue is to President Biden and Vice President Harris.

A couple days after the attack, we held another roundtable with Jewish leaders. Before I went out to speak, President Biden took both my hands and asked me how I was doing.

It was in that moment that all my emotions hit me. I'm so thankful for his support.

And my wife, the Vice President, is the one who pushed me to lean into this work. She said this "moment found me."

Even as we face darkness today, I am hopeful.

The story of Hanukkah and the story of the Jewish people has always been one of hope and resilience.

In the Hanukkah story, the Jewish people were forced into hiding.

No one thought they would survive or that the few drops of oil they had would last.

But they survived and the oil kept burning.

During those eight days in hiding, they recited their prayers and continued their traditions.

That's why Hanukkah means dedication.

It was during those dark nights that the Maccabees dedicated themselves to maintaining hope and faith in the oil, each other, and their Judaism.

So, in these dark times, I think of that story.

And I also think of everything it took for me to be here tonight.

I think of my ancestors.

This past January, I visited the town in Poland that my family fled to escape persecution.

I even saw the apartment where they lived and the temple where they worshipped.

I know the sacrifice they made to leave their home and come to this great country.

But I know many weren't able to escape.

Only in America, would the descendant of people who had to flee from persecution, be standing here with all of you as the first-ever Jewish spouse of an American president or vice president.

So even though we are facing dark times, we will continue to live out the legacy of the generations of ancestors who came before us.

We will rededicate ourselves to embracing our faith and practicing our traditions.

We cannot live in fear or be afraid.

And we must always live openly and proudly as Jews.

Happy Hanukkah!

Doug Emhoff, Remarks by the Second Gentleman at the Lighting Ceremony of the National Menorah Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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