Washington, DC…THE FIRST LADY: Good morning. AUDIENCE: Good morning! THE FIRST LADY: As we gather in honor of the High Holy Days, I know that all of our hearts are with those affected by the hurricanes. May — many have had to flee their homes, as you’ve seen. Temples will be shuttered on Yom Kippur. And some will have to break their fast without beloved family beside them. I hope that their faith and our prayers bring them comfort during this dark time.
In Judaism, the Days of Awe — these 10 days of reflection and repentance — call for introspection. But it’s not an endeavor taken alone.
The prayers on Yom Kippur begin with “we.” We have gone astray. We have not lived up to the best versions of ourselves — as individuals and as a community.
It’s a recognition of a powerful truth: that we fail together, we forgive together, and we heal together, too.
That’s why there is hope to be found in this sacred time as well.
It’s a chance to release the burdens that have weighed us down and reach toward the light of the divine; to be with family, facing the best and worst of ourselves surrounded by love, knowing that we will emerge stronger than before.
It’s a moment to remember that we — the path we walk will one day end and hold close those who travel beside us.
The Days of Awe remind us that it’s never too late to begin again.
We, all of us, are a work in progress. So we continue that work: speaking truth, fighting for — for justice, believing that we can heal our broken world.
Let us look toward the past with wisdom and turn toward the future with joy.
Let us remember that there is hope and healing ahead. In our highs and our lows, we are not alone, and there is beauty and sweetness in every step of the way.
Now, I’m grateful to be here with my family, including so many people who have become family over the years. (Laughter.) And that — it now includes Kamala and Doug.
You know, there are so many things — (applause) — yes. You know, there are so many things that you have both brought to our lives. But during the High Holidays, I am especially grateful for the chance to join you, Doug, in honoring traditions that I know that you hold close to your heart.
So, thank you for spending this special time with us.
Everyone, please welcome the Second Gentleman, Doug Emhoff. (Applause.)
THE SECOND GENTLEMAN: Thank you, my good friend Dr. Biden. You have always been such a leader in bringing people together, and you do it with compassion, and you do it with purpose. And that’s exactly what you’re doing here today by welcoming our Jewish community to the White House. So, thank you so much.
And on a personal note — back at you — (laughter) — you and the President have really made our family feel like your family. So, thank you so much.
And again, I also want to echo Dr. Biden’s words of comfort to those who have been affected by these horrible storms. Our prayers are with you, and we will continue to do everything we can to support all of you and your families and your communities.
And my wife, the Vice President — Kamala and I — (applause) — we’re honored to join you as well as we welcome in this new year. Shana Tova.
And it’s a particular honor for me as the first Jewish spouse of a President or a Vice President. (Applause.)
But do you know, for years, as a lot of you know, the Bidens invited our community for celebrations when they lived at the Vice President’s Residence. And now, the Vice President Harris and I — my wife — (laughter) — are — we are very grateful that we get to continue in the tradition that they set forth.
The doorposts there are protected by mezuzot — that’s two mezuzahs. We hosted a Passover Seder. We’ve lit a historic menorah for Hanukkah. But now, we gather in the White House during the Days of Awe, as Dr. Biden mentioned, between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.
Now, in my family, Rosh Hashanah meant a trip to my grandmother’s apartment in Brooklyn. (Laughter.) And I can still smell that brisket cooking — and burning — in the kitchen. (Laughter.) I can still taste the slightly warm challah, but slightly stale — (laughter) — on the table.
And, of course, as a lot of you remember, my grandmother begged all of us kids not to jump on the couch because “I took the plastic coverings off!” (Laughter.)
But this is also a season to reflect and atone and repent for both of our shortcomings and those that we see around us.
And let’s be clear — we all know this: Jews worldwide face horrendous discrimination and violence and antisemitism. And one of the reasons that our great President ran for president was to confront the kinds of hate and antisemitism that we all saw and were mortified by in Charlottesville. (Applause.)
And on this issue — on this issue, we have a President and a Vice President who know that all Americans must be able to worship without fear or violence. (Applause.)
And we also know they are two leaders of deep faith who believe in tolerance and inclusion, not just for our Jewish community but for all communities. (Applause.)
And our President has said, and I quote, “If Jewish history and tradition teaches us anything, it’s the resilient belief in the promise of tomorrow.”
So as the Jewish community in the United States and Israel and around the world take stock and renew our hopes for the start to 5783, we are grateful to be sharing it in one of the Jewish community’s best friends.
Please join me in welcoming the President of the United States, Joe Biden. (Applause.)
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you. Well, as you’re about to find out, Doug and I married way above our station. (Laughter.) You’ve already seen one example of that. You’ll soon see another. Doug, thank you for the introduction.
And Doug is right. You’re the first, but — Kamala often says — you won’t be the last. Kamala won’t be the last woman to be Vice President — or President. (Applause.)
So let me start by recognizing this reception comes at a very difficult time for so many Jewish families in Florida, possibly for some of you who have loved ones in Florida — mothers, fathers, grandparents, friends. Our heart goes out to everyone there in the state experiencing what could be — may be one the most devastating hurricanes in the history of that state.
And I say — I’ll — I’m going to say more about that this afternoon. I’m making a major address on this.
So many families just celebrated New Year’s and are now in this solemn part of the High Holidays. Some of you are from the area or have family and friends there. And as I said, it’s got to be tough time for a lot of you.
And I want to — Representatives Ted Deutch and Debbie Wasserman Schultz are here, and a lot of other friends. (Applause.) Good to see you, Ted.
And we’re working closely with the governor and the entire Florida delegation — Democrat and Republican — making sure that we do everything we can, including now search and rescue, recovery, and rebuilding efforts, which is going to go on for a while. Going to go on for a long while.
And whatever it takes, we’re going to be there as one nation and one America. We’re not going to walk away.
So let me just say, Ted, you’re a dear friend. You’re retiring after 12 years. Don’t go. Change your mind. Do something. (Laughter.) We’re really going to miss you, pal. No, we really are. We’re going to miss you in Congress. We’ve worked together closely for a long time. And I look forward to your leadership on the American Jewish Committee. So, thank you. (Applause.)
When Jill and I were Vice President and First [Second] Lady, Jill and I honored — were honored to host the first Rosh Hashanah reception at the Naval Observatory.
And today, as President and First Lady, we’re humbled to host the first High Holidays reception ever in the White House with so many of our friends. (Applause.)
Now, if I acknowledge everyone by name, we’ll be here — (laughter) — for the Hanukkah reception in December. (Laughter.)
But this is — Ted — Ted and Debbie, I also want to acknowledge someone else who means a great deal to our family: Rabbi Michael Beals of the Congregation Beth Shalom in Wilmington, Delaware. (Applause.) There you are.
With his predecessors — Rabbi Kraft and Rabbi Geffen — that’s where I received my education. I probably went to shul more than many of you did. (Laughter.) You all think I’m kidding. He can tell you I’m not. (Laughter.) I’m not.
Beth Shalom is home for countless friends. And, for me, it’s been — it’s been a home. And over the years, we’ve shared deep conversations about faith and — and finding purpose. And they’ve always, always, always been there for my family in the good times and not-so-good times.
And just like rabbis, synagogues, and Jewish community centers in your hometowns, you’re always there; your congregations are there for you and for everyone in the neighborhood, whether they’re Jewish or not.
And that’s the tradition I got raised — I spent a lot of time — I’m a practicing Catholic, but I — I’d go to services on Saturday and on Sunday. (Laughter.) You all think I’m kidding. I’m not. (Laughter.)
So, look, that’s the power of the Jewish community all across America.
And Doug mentioned the High Holidays are a sacred time for introspection and renewal and — and repentance, and a time to ask for forgiveness, to mend our relationships with God and with our fellow men.
The late Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, who passed away two years ago, once said that the most important lesson of the High Holidays is that nothing — nothing — is broken beyond repair. Nothing is broken beyond repair. It’s never too late to change and to be better. I’ve always believed that message, and I also think it’s universal.
And we’ve emerged from one of our most difficult moments in our history. I believe nothing is broken beyond repair, and there’s a lot we can do to change things and bring people together.
We can and we are emerging stronger from this pandemic. We’re building an economy that works for everyone. We’re — we’re responding to the cry of — for action by the climate. We’re — we’re — (applause) — we’re actually rallying the world. We’re rallying the world to keep support for Ukraine strong and consistent and — (applause) — and Ukraine’s right to exist as a people.
You know, and we’re — we’re showing that we can do big things as a country when we work together, regardless of our political party, from taking on gun violence, to supporting our veterans, to rebuilding America itself, to ending cancer as we know it.
But there is a lot more we can do, but we have to do it together, to restore the soul of America. When I ran, I said one of the reasons I was running, literally, was to restore the soul of America, bring back some decency and honor in the way we talk about one another, the way we deal with one another — standing up to antisemitism that was constantly lurking in the shadows. (Applause.)
You know, the Jewish people know better than any what my father, who was not Jewish but would constantly use the phrase, “silence is complicity.” “Silence is complicity.”
I was reminded of that yet again during my recent trip to Israel. I reaffirmed America’s unshakable commitment to Israeli security. As a matter of fact, the Prime Minister was telling me — he said, “I remember what you said…” I’d forgotten what I said when I landed. (Laughter.) He looked at me, he said — he said, “You looked at me and you said, ‘It’s good to be home.’” (Laughter.)
But, you know, the first place I went back to was Yad Vashem. And there were two Holocaust survivors there who immigrated to America after the war but returned to that sacred ground to speak to young people so we never forget.
And I think that after all they experienced in the ‘40s, today they’re witnessing a record high antisemitism in 2022 they never thought would be the case again. Although, maybe they did, in their hearts, think it could happen. But they were there.
I decided to run for President — and this is not hyperbole — you know — you’ve heard me say this for over — almost three years now that, when I saw those people walking out of the fields — literally walking out of the fields in Virginia, carrying torches, Nazi flags; and chanting the same exact antisemitic bile that was chanted on the streets of Berlin and Germany in the early ‘30s.
And when asked, when the young woman was killed, “What do you think?” And the comment made by a former leader was, “There are good people on both sides.”
I’ve made it clear since I was elected, including two weeks ago at the first-of-its-kind summit against hate-fueled violence at the White House: Hate can have no safe harbor. It’s never defeated; it only hides. It hides under rocks. And when we breathe a little oxygen under those rocks, it comes out — it comes out.
And failure to call it out is complicity, and the silence is complicity. We can’t — (applause) — no, I mean it.
We can’t remain silent. The rest of the world looks to us.
That’s why I established the first Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat — Combat Antisemitism at the — at the ambassadorial level. (Applause.)
I appointed Deborah Lipstadt, a Holocaust expert, to this critical position. She is here today. Where are you, Deborah? All the way in the back. (Laughter.) That’s usual with her humility. But, Deborah, thank you for being willing to do it. (Applause.)
And we worked with Congress to secure the largest increase in funding ever for physical security of nonprofits, including synagogues, religious organizations. (Applause.) Because nobody — nobody should fear going to a religious service or a school or walking down a street wearing a symbol of their faith. Nobody. Nobody. Period. (Applause.)
We launched the first National Strategy for Countering Domestic Terrorism and its first-of-its-kind White House Initiative on Hate-Motivated Violence, working hand in hand with the Jewish community. And many in here are working with us.
I’m not going to remain silent. We can’t remain silent. I mean this sincerely. If we let it go, democracy and everything else is at stake. We can’t remain silent.
So, let me close with this. The Jewish tradition holds that from the time the Book of Life is opened on Rosh Hashanah until the gates close on Yom Kippur, our fate hangs in the balance. It’s in our hands — it’s in our hands to change, to do better to ourselves, for ourselves, and for others.
I believe we face a similar inflection point as a nation.
My hope and prayer for the year ahead is that, for one of the most difficult moments that we’ve gone through in a long time, we emerge stronger.
That resilient belief in the promise of tomorrow is embodied in thousands of years of Jewish history and in the story of America.
So let’s do the work ahead — let’s do the work together, regardless of what your political persuasion. Let’s recognize the work of our democracy.
You know, as the Talmud instructs, “It is not required that you complete the work, neither may you refrain from it.” “It is not required you complete the work, but neither may you refrain from it.”
To bridge the gap between the world we see and the future we seek, to keep the faith, to remember who we are. We’re the United States of America, damn it. There’s nothing beyond our capacity if we do it together.
So God bless you all. May this be a happy, healthy, and sweet new year. And may we all be inscribed in the Book of Life.
But before I leave today, I have a special part of this program I want to mention.
One that — of things that Jill and I appreciate the most about opening the White House to celebrate people who mean so much to the country — I can’t think of anyone better who embodies the sacred spirit of this season than the special guest we have here today.
Born in Tel Aviv. Stricken by polio as a — as a child that’s made it difficult for him to walk ever since. Came to America to pursue his God-given talent that moves our souls. An Israeli-American icon of our time. One of the most celebrated violinists of our times. Please join me in the Foyer to hear a special performance from Itzhak Perlman. (Applause.)
Itzhak. He plays from the heart. As the rabbis tell us, “What comes from the heart enters the heart.” And you’re about to experience it.
God love you all. God be willing that we have a good year. Thank you. (Applause.)
Q Mr. President, what’s your message to Vladimir Putin today, following the annexation?
THE PRESIDENT: I’ll be talking about that a little later today, okay? Let’s celebrate now. (Applause.)