Faith and Religion

Rabbi Reflects On Religious Ceremony With Second Gentleman Doug Emhoff

Emhoff held a virtual Passover dinner earlier this year, lit the first menorah in the VP's residence and was the first to affix a mezuzah to the door.

Rabbi Reflects On Religious Ceremony With Second Gentleman Doug Emhoff
The White House

Holidays at the White House and vice president's residence have been something to behold for many years, from turkey pardons to the Obamas' annual Christmas greetings.

While the tradition list may be long, this year has represented a first for those of the Jewish faith, with second gentleman Doug Emhoff becoming the first Jewish spouse of a vice president. 

"It's humbling," he said. "And it's not lost on me that I stand before you all on behalf of all the Jewish families and communities out there across our country."

It's a role he's embraced, hosting a virtual Passover dinner earlier this year, lighting the first menorah in the vice presidential residence and becoming the first to affix a mezuzah, a symbol of the Jewish faith, to its door. 

Rabbi Peter Berg took part in that private ceremony with Emhoff and his family.

"It was really an extraordinary moment for us," he said. "When I started the ceremony and I talked about how many centuries Jews were prohibited from practicing their Jewish tradition, but today, we can be proud to be American and Jewish, we all started spontaneously tearing up. It was a really powerful moment."

Jewish traditions have been growing in representation in administrations over the years. In 1979, President Jimmy Carter lit a menorah across from the White House. In 2001, President George W. Bush made Hanukkah an official part of the White House holiday celebrations. And former presidential advisers Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner, who are Jewish, took part in several faith traditions during their time in the White House.  

Rabbi Berg tells Newsy representation is important, especially now, with a rise in reports of antisemitism. 

"We talked about the historical significance of the moment, that it's the first time in U.S. history that an executive residence would contain the abiding symbol of Jewish faith and particularly in this time of antisemitism, which has reached such high levels — what it means to Jews for the second family to proudly say: This is a Jewish home," Berg said.