This week, Jewish Second Gentleman Doug Emhoff spoke at the Dallas BBYO International Convention, and he truly brought his best Jewish dad self to the gathering of the Jewish teen movement.
Emhoff balanced the Jewish dad jokes in his speech with wonderful sincerity. He shared words of encouragement and meaningfully celebrated his Jewish pride in the over 10-minute minute long speech.
The Jewish father of two, and husband of Vice President Kamala Harris, opened up by addressing the crowd with, “How do you do, fellow Jewish kids?” referencing a popular meme from “30 Rock.” It was a line straight out of the Jewish Father brand guidelines. And if that’s not enough, he told the large audience that “it feels like halftime at the Jewish Super Bowl.” Doug!
Emhoff started his speech, as he does most speeches, by being effusive about his wife — celebrating her credentials as the first woman VP and saying that she wishes the audience a hearty “shalom.”
He then reminisced about his joyful childhood, growing up a “Jewish kid in Central Jersey,” and then yelled out to the crowd, “Jersey in the house!” (Doug!!!)
He divulged that as a kid, he felt “lucky to be Jewish,” and shared his hopes that all the young people in the crowd watching him feel that same joy and pride growing up in America right now.
He fondly recalled going to Temple Shalom in Aberdeen, NJ, and his bar mitzvah, for which he wore a three-piece velvet suit. He also revealed that he was so excited when he got through his Torah portion without having a panic attack. He shared this all while a throwback picture from his bar mitzvah appeared on a large monitor behind me, and honestly, we’re so grateful to see it.
But Emhoff’s favorite Jewish childhood memory, though, was being voted “most athletic” at his Jewish summer camp. Because, of course.
The entertainment lawyer said that he chose his career because of his hate for bullies (“I stood up to them my whole life”) but also because of his passion for “tzedek,” the Hebrew word for justice (Emhoff previously spoke about how Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who had the words “tzedek tzedel tirdof” in her judge’s chamber, was one of his idols.)
It’s that passion of justice, he continued, that is guiding him in the fight against antisemitism and hated of all kind, especially during a time when too many young Jewish people across America and the world feel scared to display and celebrate their Judaism in spaces that should feel safe, like their high school classrooms. He also expressed concern that so many still grow up hearing anti-Jewish comments and slurs. He lamented how in Los Angeles, antisemitic banners were recently flown over highways, saying that he and his administration are working on “a national plan to fight this horrible rise in antisemitism.”
Emhoff also celebrated the historical Jewish moments that he’s been a part of as the first Jewish Second Gentleman, from celebrating the High Holidays in the White House for the first time, to leading a Passover seder at the Naval Observatory, to, most movingly, putting up a mezuzah in the VP residence for the first time in history. Of that last moment, he said it was “the first time I ever saw my father cry.”
Emhoff lauded our people as one that perseveres, “who time and time again never stop hoping, and never stop believing in the promise of a better future.”
“Despite the odds, we’re still here!” he shouted at the crowd, a fact that he was recently vividly reminded of while on an emotional visit to Auschwitz in Poland, the land his own ancestors escaped to avoid persecution.
They could never have imagined that their progeny would some day be married to the Vice President of America, but, Emhoff added, “That is is the story of our people. That is the story of America.” (I’m not crying, you’re crying!)
He ended his moving speech by urging Jewish youth to “always live openly, always live proudly and always live loudly as Jews.”
“Do not be afraid to be who you are — live without fear,” he implored. And that is truly all we want for our Jewish children.