I just finished a great first week here in the White House Office of Public Engagement. The American Jewish community has a tremendous amount going on so I jumped right in! In just a few days, I was fortunate to meet some fabulous organizations including the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, and the Joint Action Committee for Political Affairs. I have already been struck by the depth and breadth of the work being done and am excited to meet with more Jewish organizations and community leaders in the weeks ahead. From the most established groups founded in the nineteenth century to care for refugees, to brand new ones leading the way in sustainable development and social justice, Jewish community organizations are making an incredible impact.
The week was especially meaningful to me as I was able to attend the dedication of the Jewish Chaplains Memorial on Chaplains Hill at Arlington National Cemetery. As the Grandson of two Jewish World War II veterans, I was proud to help honor the 14 Chaplains who made the ultimate sacrifice ministering to my grandfathers and their comrades in arms during conflicts dating to the Civil War. This monument honors among others, Rabbi Alexander D. Goode who was killed when the USAT Dorchester was sunk by a torpedo while in transit to Greenland. The four chaplains on board, two Protestant, one Catholic, and one Jewish, saved countless lives by giving away their lifejackets and helping to organize the evacuation of the ship. Numerous survivors of the Dorchesterreported seeing the four Chaplains, arms linked in prayer as the ship sank below the waves. The Chaplains on the Dorchester serve as an inspiration to Americans of all faiths of shared responsibility to safeguard our democracy. In fact, in April 2011, President Obama cited the heroism of the four Chaplains in proclamation for Jewish American Heritage Month.
All in all, a fantastic first week!
Jarrod Bernstein is the Director of Jewish Outreach at the Office of Public Engagement.