Obama Celebrates Jewish American Heritage Month

Celebrating Jewish American Heritage Month, President Obama today recalled the struggle against anti-Semitism in the U.S.

The president told how, 150 years ago, General Ulysses Grant issued an order that would have expelled Jews "as a class" from what was then known as the military department of 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," the president said at a White House reception.

What happened next, Obama said, "could have only taken place in America."

American Jews protested Grant's decision, taking the issue all the way to the top, to President Lincoln himself, who later revoked the order.

"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," Obama said.

In a year when the Jewish vote takes on a new importance, Obama said it's his generation's turn to "stand up for our shared values."

"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," he said.

"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," the president concluded.