WASHINGTON – U.S. President Joe Biden on Thursday commemorated the Jewish High Holy Days during a virtual event with rabbis around the country, offering his most extensive and free-flowing remarks to the Jewish community since taking office.
Biden praised Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, calling him a "gentle man" while acknowledging he holds "much more conservative views on the Middle East than I do" and relaying his honor at renewing the bonds between Israel and the U.S. following Bennett's trip to Washington last week.
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Biden made sure to make several mentions of his meetings with Golda Meir as a young senator, repeating his often-told story of Meir relaying Israel's secret weapon of having nowhere else to go, and how it has informed his views on Israel in the decades since. "We never waver in our support for the State of Israel," Biden said, adding that "we've got to fight like hell" to ensure Israel's security.
He said the message of renewal surrounding the High Holy Days is universal, and one that he placed at the center of his presidential campaign. "We lost our way, our sense of comradery, we treated each other so harshly," Biden said, noting that "Rosh Hashanah and the Days of Awe present us with the chance to restore our souls and the High Holy Days allow us to take collective responsibility for renewal." He added the world has the opportunity to bridge existing gaps through empathy based on these themes, particularly as society continues to emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic.
The president further decried the "scourge of antisemitism, that remains all too present today," telling the leaders that his father would often decry how the U.S. didn't bomb the railroad tracks leading to the Auschwitz concentration camp during World War II and how he ensured to take his children to visit concentration camps on their respective 16th birthdays.
"Coming out of the civil rights movement in Delaware, I used to think hate could be defeated. It can't, it only hides, and it comes out given any oxygen. It's been given too much oxygen over the last 10 years," Biden said. "If we walk away from 'never again,' it will happen again, and it cannot happen again." He further called antisemitic attacks such as those in Pittsburgh "strikes against the soul of our nation."
Biden linked the Jewish concept of "welcoming the stranger" to the controversial U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, noting that the U.S. now enters the next stage of helping refugees acclimate — "a cause in which the Jewish community so often leads, whether Soviet Jews coming to America or Ethiopian Jews going to Israel." The president added that if Jewish history and tradition teaches anything, it's "the resilient belief in the promise of tomorrow. Even after the worst destruction and pain, the Jewish people have recovered and rebuilt and emerged stronger than before."
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Biden ended his remarks by offering hope for religious collaboration down the road, pointing to his daughter's marriage to a Jewish doctor — "the dream of every Catholic father," he joked — and how much he enjoyed the Jewish-Catholic ceremony. "We have a possibility to make things so much better," he concluded, calling the Jewish community a "backbone of staying with what's right."