June 15, 2024
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Capitol Hill Celebrates Jewish American Heritage Month

Kosher luncheon in Senate’s Kennedy Caucus Room honors Jewish American Heritage Month.

On Wednesday, May 22, Project Legacy hosted the annual Capitol Hill Celebratory Luncheon, a Tribute to American Jewry. This kosher event is held each May, the month designated by Congress as Jewish American Heritage Month, and focuses on Jewish contributions to the fabric of American life. This year, Malcolm Hoenlein, longtime executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations, was honored together with Eric Gertler, executive chairman and CEO of US News & World Report.

Multiple bipartisan members of Congress noted both honorees’ dedication to service and advocacy not only for the nation but also on behalf of the American and worldwide Jewish community in the United States and beyond.

JAHM24 luncheon honorees Malcom Hoenlein (left) and Eric Gertler.

In the majestic and historic Kennedy Caucus Room, members of Congress from both parties attended the event, expressing their support for the Jewish community and its achievements. Senators in attendance included: Cory Booker (D-NJ), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), John Hickenlooper (D-CO), Tim Kaine (D-VA), James Lankford (R-OK), James Risch (R-ID), Pete Ricketts (R-NE), Jackie Rosen (D-NV), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Brian Schatz (D-HI), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Sherrod Brown (D-OH) and Ben Cardin (D-MD). Reps. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL) and Brad Schneider (D-IL) also spoke.

Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (at podium) flanked by dais members’ rabbis, congress members, honorees and imam.

In a statement on the event, Project Legacy noted Hoenlein’s “decades in Jewish leadership on the front lines in countless issues that impact world Jewry. Mr. Hoenlein has traveled the world, meeting with world leaders and Jewish communities, coupled with his extensive speaking engagements across the United States and abroad on international relations, Israel and Middle East Affairs, and the American Jewish community, have established him as a true luminary in Jewish leadership.” Prior to serving as the executive vice chairman of the Presidents’ Conference, he was the founding executive director of the Greater New York Conference on Soviet Jewry.

Project Legacy also highlighted Gertler’s leadership as “instrumental in shaping the discourse on global affairs. His active involvement includes the Center for Public Leadership at the Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government, Tel Aviv University and Hebrew University, his commitment to advancing education and fostering international cooperation. Additionally, his role as chairman of the American-Israel Friendship League exemplifies his unwavering dedication to solidifying relations between the U.S. and Israel.”

Honorees Malcolm Hoenlein (left) and Eric Gertler (right), with Idaho Sen. Jim Risch.

At the request of Congress, President Ronald Reagan’s Proclamation in 1981 set the first official Jewish American Heritage Week. In 2005, the late Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter joined newly elected Florida Rep. Wasserman Schultz to pass one of her first pieces of legislation, a concurrent resolution expanding the federal celebration of Jewish Heritage Week to the entire month of May. President George W. Bush signed it into law in 2006.

Retiring at the end of this term, Cardin is chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. In his last Jewish Heritage luncheon as senator, he praised honoree Hoenlein for two of the hardest jobs he could imagine: “Head of the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York and then leader of the Presidents of 52 Jewish organizations,” calling it harder than anything he ever had to do as a U.S. senator. Cardin is working with Lankford and Rosen to pass bills on identifying and battling antisemitism, which have been held up in the Senate.

(l-r) Sen. James Lankford; Ezra Friedlander (standing); Presidents’ Conference CEO William Daroff; honoree Malcolm Hoenlein; and Sen. Ben Cardin.

Risch, who serves as the ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee as well as a member of both the Senate Ethics and Intelligence committees, criticized the “Biden administration meddling in the Rafah operation and freezing arms sales to Israel, are awful and need to change.”

In a message filled with Yiddish and Hebrew and with Talmudic and Biblical references, Booker thanked the American Jewish community for all they had done to help his Black community in their civil rights struggles. He described the actions of Marty Friedman, a Jewish lawyer who uncovered real estate agents blocking sales of homes in Bergen County that would integrate all-White neighborhoods. After Friedman led a sting operation in 1969 that included his being punched in the face by the realtor, the sellers were so upset that they immediately agreed to complete the sale. Forty-three years later, the buyer family’s infant was elected senator from New Jersey.

(l-r) President’s Conference CEO William Daroff; Sen. Cory Booker; honoree Malcolm Hoenlein (holding award); Sens. Ben Cardin and Sherrod Brown; honoree Eric Gertler; emcee Greg Rosenbaum; and organizer Ezra Friedander.

Ricketts highlighted 180 years of Jewish life in his state. He described Johnny Rosenblatt, Omaha’s Jewish mayor who brought a minor league baseball team to the city. This led to the College World Series establishing the NCAA Division I championship being held for many decades in the Omaha stadium later named for Rosenblatt. Schatz spoke of being from one of the two states with both a Jewish senator and a Jewish governor, the other being Colorado.

Cardin thanked the hosts for serving knishes in the Senate.

Judy Berger is a Bronx/Westchester/Connecticut community editor at The Jewish Link.

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