Harris’ husband, Emhoff, about to make history of his own
(JTA) United States (US) Vice-President-elect Kamala Harris’ Jewish husband, Doug Emhoff, has made history as he will be the first Jewish spouse of a president or a vice-president.
He spoke before the election about growing up Jewish and his Jewish involvement in a webinar organised by President-elect Joe Biden’s campaign, offering revelations about the Jewish components of his first date with Harris, and his own current Jewish involvement.
The two-hour webinar, which drew at least 1 000 people, played up the themes Democrats used in their campaign to woo Jewish voters, contrasting President Donald Trump as less empathetic to Jewish concerns and countering Trump’s pro-Israel policies with claims he makes the country less safe because of his isolationism.
There was a lot of Jewish trivia: he went to Cedar Lake, a Jewish camp in New Jersey, and excelled in tennis and soccer before soccer was popular in the United States, Emhoff said. As he did in another call he and Harris had with Jewish donors, he described the three-piece brown velour suit he wore for his Barmitzvah.
On their first date, Emhoff said Harris “reeled off her Jewish bonafides”, including trips to Israel, fundraising for the Jewish National Fund as a teenager, and the fact that her mother worked for the Jewish General Hospital in Montreal, where Harris spent her teenage years.
Emhoff, an entertainment lawyer in California where Harris is the Democratic US senator, also spoke of his Jewish commitment, including his pro bono work with Bet Tzedek, which provides free legal services to the poor.
Emhoff embraced a central theme of the Biden Jewish campaign and the campaign overall: Trump is unfit to be president in part, he said, because he coddles right-wing extremists.
“We have a president, right now, who has repeatedly used antisemitic dog whistles,” Emhoff said. “But worst of all, when marchers in Charlottesville came out of the woods, carrying torches and spewing the same antisemitic vile that we heard in the 1930s in Germany, before the Holocaust, this president called some of them ‘very fine people’.”
He was referring to Trump’s remarks in 2017 after a deadly neo-Nazi march in the Virginia city. Trump called the marchers “very fine people”, but also condemned neo-Nazis and white supremacists in the same remarks.
Personal disgust with Trump was a recurring theme throughout the call. Anthony Blinken, a former top national security official in the Obama-Biden administration and a senior foreign policy adviser to the campaign, said Biden took his children to the Dachau concentration camp when they were old enough to understand the horrors of the Holocaust.
In contrast, Blinken said, “President Trump signed the guestbook at Yad Vashem like he was signing a yearbook, writing, ‘how amazing it was to be here with all my friends’.”
Lauren Alperstein, a lawyer who serves on the board of a number of Jewish groups in south Florida, said it was hard for her to explain Trump to her children.
“It’s been very hard – more so for our son – trying to explain to him what a president should look like, what a president should be, and how a president should act, because this president doesn’t embody those values, he doesn’t embody the values of tikkun olam,” the Mishnaic precept of repairing the world, “he doesn’t embody the values of ve’ahavta le’raecha kemocha – you love your neighbour as yourself,” she said.
Representative Lois Frankel, whose congressional district includes Trump’s residence, Mar-a-Lago, joked that she hoped to see Trump again, soon.
“I want you to know that I represent the president of the US in congress,” she said. “I guess, to his chagrin. I hope this time next year he’s back as my constituent.”