Jewish American Heritage Month Reception at White House

President Barack Obama hosted the annual Jewish American Heritage Month celebration at the White House to honor and celebrate the Jewish community’s contributions to America. Obama welcomed everyone to the celebration by remarking upon the Jewish community’s long and important history of civic involvement. 400 Jewish leaders from across the nation attended. A partial guest list follows the jump below.

Remarks by President Barack Obama
White House, East Room, May 30, 2012

This year, we celebrate Jewish Heritage Month — Jewish American Heritage Month, and we’re also commemorating an important anniversary.  One hundred-fifty years ago, General Ulysses Grant issued an order — known as General Orders Number 11 — that would have expelled Jews, “as a class,” from what was then known as the military department of the Tennessee.  It was wrong.  Even if it was 1862, even if official acts of anti-Semitism were all too common around the world, it was wrong and indicative of an ugly strain of thought.

But what happened next could have only taken place in America. Groups of American Jews protested General Grant’s decision.  A Jewish merchant from Kentucky traveled here, to the White House, and met with President Lincoln in person.  After their meeting, President Lincoln revoked the order — one more reason why we like President Lincoln.  (Laughter and applause.)

And to General Grant’s credit, he recognized that he had made a serious mistake.  So later in his life, he apologized for this order, and as President, he went out of his way to appoint Jews to public office and to condemn the persecution of Jews in Eastern Europe.

Today, we have a few documents on display — maybe some of you saw them when you walked in.  There are two letters of protest from Jewish organizations to President Lincoln.  There is President Lincoln’s handwritten reply, saying that he had taken action.  And there is a receipt for the donation that President Grant made to the Adas Israel Synagogue here in Washington, when he attended a service there in 1876.

So together, these papers tell a story, a fundamentally American story.  Like so many groups, Jews have had to fight for their piece of the American dream.  But this country holds a special promise:  that if we stand up for the traditions we believe in and in the values we share, then our wrongs can be made right; our union can be made more perfect and our world can be repaired.

Today, it’s our turn, our generation’s turn.  And you guys, your generation’s turn.  You’re younger than us.  (Laughter.)  We got some later generations here in the front.  We’re the ones who have to stand up for our shared values.   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.

Beyond our borders, we have to stand alongside our friends who share our commitment to freedom and democracy and universal rights; and that includes, of course, our unwavering commitment to the State of Israel and its security and the pursuit of a just and lasting peace.  (Applause.)

It’s no secret that we’ve got a lot of work to do.  But as your traditions teach us, while we are not obligated to finish the work, neither are we free to desist from that work.

So today, we don’t just celebrate all that American Jews have done for our country; we also look toward the future.  And as we do, I know that those of you in this room, but folks all across this country will continue to help perfect our union; and for that, I am extraordinarily grateful.

God bless you.  God bless America.  (Applause.)

Guest list follows the jump.
More after the jump.
Partial Guest List

  • Rabbi Andrea Merow of Beth Sholom Congregation in Elkins Park
  • Rabbi Eric Yanoff of Adath Israel in Merion Station
  • Rabbi David Ackerman of Beth Am Israel in Penn Valley
  • Representative Allyson Schwartz (D-PA)
  • NJDC Chair Marc R. Stanley
  • NJDC President and CEO David A. Harris
  • Israeli Ambassador to the United States Michael Oren
  • Democratic National Committee Chair Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL)
  • Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD)
  • Representative Shelley Berkley (D-NV)
  • Representative Howard Berman (D-CA)
  • Representative David Cicilline (D-RI)
  • Representative Steve Cohen (D-TN)
  • Representative Susan Davis (D-CA)
  • Representative Ted Deutch (D-FL)
  • Representative Eliot Engel (D-NY)
  • Representative Sander Levin (D-MI)
  • Representative Nita Lowey (D-NY)
  • Representative Jerrold Nadler (D-NY)
  • Representative Jarrod Polis (D-CO)
  • Representative Jan Schakowsky (D-IL)
  • Representative Adam Schiff (D-CA)
  • Representative Henry Waxman (D-CA)

The Best of Congressman Barney Frank

Frank has often been accused of pushing “the radical homosexual agenda.” In the clip above, he defines exactly what that agenda is.

Congressman Barney Frank (D-MA) stunned the country by announcing his retirement. Here are a few reactions we have received along with video highlights of his wit and wisdom.

Statement by Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO):

Barney Frank was a groundbreaking pioneer and one of the most insightful, knowledgeable and humorous people ever to grace the halls of Congress. We will miss his leadership on a wide range of issues — from fighting to reign in Wall Street’s excesses and working to stabilize our economy to standing up for equal rights for LGBT Americans and curtailing runaway Pentagon spending. Congressman Frank championed the rights of all Americans, the economic security of all of our families, and a politics of inclusion and hope. It’s a great loss for the Congress but Barney leaves behind an enviable record of accomplishment. I will miss
his presence every day.

More after the jump.

In a recent Republican debate, Newt Gingrich said Frank should be thrown in jail for his role in the housing crisis. Frank responds to the video above.

Statement by NJDC President and CEO David A. Harris:

On behalf of the National Jewish Democratic Council’s leadership and staff, I am truly saddened by the news that Representative Barney Frank will be retiring at the end of his current term. For the last 30 years, Frank has been a leading voice for many Jewish communal concerns and a stalwart advocate for America’s middle class on Capitol Hill. Through his fierce advocacy for many Democratic and social justice causes, Frank truly represented the Jewish value of tikkun olam — repairing the world.

As we’ve experienced over the years, Frank has an unparalleled work ethic and a sense of humor to match. He leaves behind a strong legacy as one of America’s pioneering Jewish legislators in addition to the many pieces of legislation that bear his name. Frank’s absence in the House will be felt by all, and especially so for many in the American Jewish community who have looked up to Frank as a role model. We congratulate Frank for his distinguished career in the House of Representatives and wish him the best as he begins the next chapter of his life.

Barney Frank is asked by a Tea Party member if he would support a “Nazi policy” (public health insurance), Barney Frank responded, “On what planet do you spend most of your time? … Madam, trying to have a conversation with you would be like trying to argue with a dining room table. I have no interest in doing it.” Rep. Frank was in rare form that night, standing up to the uninformed shrieking of the right and offering a real lesson in how to argue with conservatives.

Congress Ends “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” Policy

Marc R. Stanley and David A. Harris

Today’s 65-31 vote to repeal the ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ policy that prohibited gay, lesbian and bisexual Americans from serving openly in our nation’s armed forces is truly historic. The repeal sends a clear message that any willing and able American can and should be allowed to proudly serve our country. As a world leader, it was appalling that we allowed legal and public discrimination to take place against some of the brave men and women who volunteered to serve their country on the field of battle. We applaud President Barack Obama for shining a bright light on this issue, and we commend the leadership of both the House and Senate for protecting the rights of gay, lesbian and bisexual Americans.
Marc R. Stanley is the Chair of the National Jewish Democratic Council. David A. Harris is NJDC’s President and CEO. Rep. Jared Polis is a Democratic Congressman from Colorado.

Jared Polis Comes Out Against “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”

Rep. Jared Polis (CO-2)

In a final push to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT) before the 111th Congress comes to a close, Congressman Jared Polis (D-CO) today urged his colleagues to support a House version of stand-alone legislation pending in the Senate that would immediately repeal DADT and empower the Defense Department to end this harmful and discriminatory policy.  Although the House passed legislation repealing DADT earlier this year, the passage of identical House legislation today (by a vote of 250 to 175) leaves the Senate with virtually no excuse to delay or fail to take action on this issue.

Text of Congressman Polis’ floor speech follows the jump.

I rise today in support of the repeal of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy.  This resolution would ensure that the military has the ability to implement the recommendation from its recently completed study.  “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” is the only law in the country that requires people to be dishonest or be fired if they choose to be honest.  It’s a law that not only is hurtful to the men and women who put themselves at risk serving in our armed forces, but it’s a law that’s hurtful to our national security.

A recent study found that 8 out of 10 Americans support repealing the law.  Regardless of their political party, people recognize that on the battlefield it doesn’t matter if a soldier is gay or straight.  What matters is they get the job done to protect our country.

Now, it’s important to remember we already debated and voted on this issue early this summer.  We passed an amendment with the same repeal language in the defense authorization bill.  At that time there were members on both sides of the aisle that weren’t ready to support this repeal.  They wanted to see an extensive report by the military that was scheduled to come out December 1st; it came out one day earlier.

I personally didn’t feel we needed to see that report.  I was already convinced this would not be a threat to military readiness and would in fact enhance military readiness-due  in part to the fact we have discharged over 13,000 people from our military after taxpayer money went for their training for reasons totally unrelated to their performance.  Not to mention countless others that didn’t re-enlist or left the military because of this policy.

But I do understand many members of this body from both sides of the aisle, including the Chairman of the committee of jurisdiction, wanted to see that report in December.  Well, the report has come out and it’s very clear with regard to the fact that-of no surprise to me, but hopefully of consolation to those who were concerned-this change in policy does not represent a threat to the security of this country.  And in fact there were several practical suggestions about how to implement this change.

In addition, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs and the Secretary of Defense have been very clear that they want to see this policy legislatively repealed.  Why?  Because repeal of this policy is inevitable.  It’s a question of when not if.  There are already several court orders in various stages of appeal and the military feels that the plan for it, with us, in this legislative process, is better for military readiness than running the greater risk of having an instant court order, an on or off again court order, which is also a possibility, which would prevent the regular military planning process from going forward.

The sooner we act the better.  Despite our differences, it’s clear that leaving it up to the courts is the wrong way to go about it.  In 1993 the passage of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was a political process, not a military one.  Today we can rectify that, remove the statutory requirement, and allow the military to do the right thing to improve military readiness and enhance the protection of our country.

Let us be on the right side of history and finally move forward with repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” today.  Thank you.