When I received the invitation to the White House Chanukah party, my first thought was of my ancestors and those of my spouse. How amazed these immigrants, who fled the towns of Eastern Europe and the Ottoman Empire, would be to know that not only was the White House standing up to anti-Semitism with a full embrace of the Jewish community, but that I was among the hundreds of Jewish leaders invited to be part of the lighting of the White House menorah.
I’ve often pondered the idea of homeland. As a wandering people, my ancestors have had many homes. My children can trace their lineage back generations to the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Ukraine, Salonica, and Ireland; not all of us have this privilege. Today, I have deep roots both in the land where I was raised, with its small hills and Great Lakes, and in the city I have chosen, with its tall buildings, tree-lined streets, and walkable neighborhoods. Standing in the White House amid many colleagues, I was reminded that wherever in America we have planted our roots we have not only the right but the responsibility to make sure that this homeland of ours lives up to its ideals.
After the lighting of the White House’s newly unveiled, first permanent menorah, made from beams that were salvaged when President Truman renovated the mansion in 1950, President Biden spoke to the Jewish people’s integral role as Americans.
“The story of America is the story of you, of all of us, drawing strength from those who came before, spreading the fire that burns in our hearts, grateful for the miracles of love and faith and kindness and courage that surround us each and every day,” Biden said.
This is our home and we have work to do to build the communities and country that meet every person’s basic needs and give everyone the chance to achieve their fullest potential. Biden’s words kindled an even stronger sense of commitment to persist in advancing Avodah’s mission: to develop lifelong social justice leaders who inspire the Jewish community to work toward a more just and equitable world.
As Avodah celebrates its 25th anniversary, I invite everyone to join us in this effort. As Jews and Americans, we all have a role to play in ensuring that America fulfills its promise of life, liberty, and justice for all. Together, we can write a story of universal liberation that will reverberate throughout the generations.