US President Barack Obama on Friday issued a special statement in honor of Jewish American Heritage Month, which begins Saturday. "Our Nation has always been both a haven and a home for Jewish Americans," Obama wrote, on the backdrop of political tensions over the United States' relations with Israel and the pressures surrounding the peace process.
The first American black president is no stranger to Jewish tradition. Many of Obama's staff members – including White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel – have Jewish mothers. The president himself held a Passover
seder at the White House recently, for the second time since taking office. In addition, his wife Michelle's cousin is a known Chicago rabbi.
"Countless Jewish immigrants have come to our shores seeking better lives and opportunities, from those who arrived in New Amsterdam long before America's birth, to those of the past century who sought refuge from the horrors of pogroms and the Holocaust," Obama wrote.
"As they have immeasurably enriched our national culture, Jewish Americans have also maintained their own unique identity. During Jewish American Heritage Month we celebrate this proud history and honor the invaluable contributions Jewish Americans have made to our nation."
Various events are scheduled to take place across the US in the coming month. Museums will display exhibitions by Jewish artists, there will be meetings and discussions about Jewish heritage, and Holocaust survivors will recount their life stories.
"The Jewish American story is an essential chapter of the American narrative. It is one of refuge from persecution; of commitment to service, faith, democracy, and peace; and of tireless work to achieve success," the president added.
"As leaders in every facet of American life – from athletics, entertainment, and the arts to academia, business, government, and our Armed Forces – Jewish Americans have shaped our nation and helped steer the course of our history. We are a stronger and more hopeful country because so many Jews from around the world have made America their home."
Obama further added that "today, Jewish Americans carry on their culture's tradition of 'tikkun olam' – or 'to repair the world' – through good deeds and service. As they honor and maintain their ancient heritage, they set a positive example for all Americans and continue to strengthen our nation."
The first president to acknowledge the contribution made by Jewish Americans to their country for more than 350 years was George W. Bush. The Republican president accepted an initiative presented by the Jewish community in Florida, which led to two resolutions which were passed unanimously, first in the US House of Representatives in December 2005 and later in the United States Senate in February 2006.