WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama recalled one of the darker chapters in the
history of US Jewry at a ceremony marking Jewish American Heritage Month
Before some 400 Jewish members of Congress,
religious leaders and community advocates who gathered at the annual White House
reception, Obama referred to the order that then- Union General Ulysses Grant
gave expelling the Jews from Tennessee on December 17, 1862.
used that story to illustrate Jewish resilience and activism, as Jewish leaders
protested the order and a Jewish merchant met personally with President Abraham
Lincoln to urge the order be repealed. Lincoln revoked the order, and later
Grant himself apologized for it. He went on to visit and donate to Adas Israel
Synagogue in Washington when he himself was president.
“Like so many
groups, Jews have had to fight for their piece of the American dream,” Obama
said. “But this country holds a special promise: that if we stand up for the
traditions we believe in and the values we share, then our wrongs can be made
right, our union can be made more perfect and our world can be
Just as Obama’s words echoed the Jewish concept of tikkun
olam, or repairing the world, he also echoed his own political stump speech when
he told the crowd, “Here at home we have to rebuild an America where everybody
gets a fair shot, and everybody is doing their fair share, and everybody is
playing by the same rules.”
This year’s crowd was heavy on members of
Congress and Washington Jewish leaders, in contrast to previous years when
luminaries such as former Brooklyn Dodgers pitcher Sandy Kofax and author Judy
One political insider suggested that there would be more
big names from the American Jewish community at an event awarding President
Shimon Peres the presidential medal of freedom later in June.
American Heritage Month reception came the day after Obama dropped by an
hour-long meeting Conservative rabbis held with White House chief of staff Jack
Lew on Tuesday.
The president discussed issues ranging from Iran and
Israel’s security to health care and the safety net, according to
“He especially encouraged us to carry forward Judaism’s
message of communal responsibility and the religious mandate to seek the welfare
of all people in society,” said Julie Schonfeld, executive vice president of the
Rabbinical Assembly, the international umbrella organization for Conservative
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