President Joe Biden marked Jewish American Heritage Month on Tuesday by highlighting his administration's efforts to combat rising antisemitism, at a White House reception that featured performances from the stars of the Broadway revival of "Parade."
Biden told the crowd it was important to him personally to guard against the rise of "antisemitic bile" in the world, and in particular the U.S.
"Jewish Americans are shattered by a long and painful history of the oldest, the most sinister forces of hate and anti-semitism," he said, talking about how he learned of the horrors of the Holocaust from his father and how it has motivated him to speak out against hate.
He also reiterated how his decision to run for the White House in 2020 was shaped by a 2017 neo-Nazi march in Charlottesville, Virginia.
The president, who just weeks ago announced he would run for reelection, spoke frequently during the 2020 campaign about the "Unite the Right" rally led by white nationalists bearing torches. Clashes between that group and a large gathering of counterprotesters led to the death of counterprotester Heather Heyer when a white nationalist drove his car into the crowd.
Then-President Donald Trump said of the incident that "you also had people that were very fine people, on both sides."
"That's when I knew we had to stay engaged in the work of our time," Biden said. "Hate never goes away. It just hides under the rocks until someone breathes oxygen on the rocks and it comes roaring back out."
Biden highlighted his appointment of America's first ambassador-level special envoy to monitor and combat antisemitism, increased federal funding to help secure synagogues, Jewish community centers and Jewish day schools, and convening a White House summit on combating hate-fueled violence.
The president was briefly delayed to the celebration because of earlier negotiations on the debt ceiling, so Ben Plattand Micaela Diamond, both 2023 Tony Award nominees for their performance in Parade," performed first. The musical centers on the trial and imprisonment and lynching in the early 20th century of Jewish American factory manager Leo Frank. Composer Jason Robert Brown accompanied Diamond and Platt.
The trio did two from their show, and a third number from "Into the Woods," before dashing back to New York for the evening curtain. First Lady Jill Biden chatted with the crowd until Biden arrived. "Apparently, Joe made it," she joked as she took her seat.
Biden late last year established an inter-agency group to better coordinate U.S. government efforts to counter antisemitism, Islamophobia and related forms of bias and discrimination within the United States. He said his administration would soon be releasing its national strategy to counter antisemitism.
Doug Emhoff, the husband of Vice President Kamala Harris, has made countering antisemitism a hallmark issue as the first Jewish (and male) vice presidential spouse. He said that around the nation, Jewish Americans were "achieving at the highest levels of success."
"How proud our ancestors would be to see us all here today after many fled persecution to live their dreams in the United States of America."
But there was much to do to combat rising anti-semitism in the world. â€œMy wife, the vice president, encouraged me to lean into this fight," he said.
The White House recruited James Beard-winning chef Michael Solomonov, who specializes in Israeli cuisine, to design the menu for Tuesday's celebration.