Second gentleman Doug Emhoff called attention to the "epidemic" of antisemitism and reflected on the history he has made while speaking Tuesday at a virtual event on U.S. Jewish military history.
"This role has enabled me to use this microphone to speak out and to speak up on issues that are important to not only us Jews but all of us -- all around the world," Emhoff, an entertainment attorney and the first Jewish spouse of a president or vice president, said on the final day of Jewish American Heritage Month honoring the accomplishments and history of Jews in the United States.
"And as the vice president said so eloquently in Buffalo the other day: It's an epidemic of hate," Emhoff said, referencing wife Kamala Harris' trip to New York in the wake of the fatal shooting of 10 people at a supermarket in a predominantly Black neighborhood earlier in May. The suspected shooter's writings included both anti-Black and anti-Jewish screeds; separately, advocacy groups say antisemitic incidents hit a high in 2021.
"It's an epidemic of hate that not only includes antisemitism but includes all forms of hate," Emhoff said Tuesday. "And we as Jews, and we as Americans, we all need to stand up and speak up."
Emhoff also talked more personally, saying that the reaction to his identity as a Jewish second gentleman surprised him. While his faith was always a big deal to him, "I did not expect my Jewish faith to be such a big deal in this role," he said.
"I've been at schools making matzah [flatbread eaten on the Jewish holiday of Passover], I've talked to my dad's 85-year-old friends who, you know, gossip with him and they'll tell him how much I mean to them," he continued.
Though his importance to others surprised him, he took it seriously, he said: "It has nothing to do with political party or anything like that. It's just seeing me in this role, it has engendered some feelings in people they didn't even know they had ... it really pushes me to do as well as I can."
"To be able to live openly and joyfully as an American Jew, as I always have, but to do it so publicly, has really impacted people," he said.
Emhoff has participated in both public and private Jewish events in his capacity as second gentlemen, which like the role of first lady includes a number of ceremonial duties and the championing of select causes. He helped light the national menorah for Hanukkah last December near the White House. In his Tuesday remarks, he looked back at other appearances.
"Whether it's hanging the first mezuzah [a box containing a scroll with some scripture] at the vice president's residence, having the first in-person [Passover] Seder there … lighting a menorah at the residence … and to just show up, just show everyone what we're doing, like we've always done, but just to have the American people and the world see it is just really, really incredible," Emhoff said.
President Joe Biden marked Jewish American Heritage Month with a proclamation at the end of April where he emphasized the contributions of Jewish Americans in building the U.S. and contributing to public life.
"The story of America was written, in part, by Jewish Americans who, through their words and actions, embraced the opportunity and responsibility of citizenship knowing full well that democracy is not born, nor sustained, by accident," Biden said.
He also denounced the increase in antisemitism: "As the scourge of white supremacy and antisemitic violence rises, my Administration remains committed to ensuring that hate has no safe harbor."