Rosh Hashanah Reception

VP Harris: ‘Blast of the shofar’ presents a ‘wake up call’

A Rosh Hashanah reception at the vice president’s residence featured a kosher menu designed by Adeena Sussman and a performance by Regina Spektor

Sheila Katz

Second Gentleman Doug Emhoff at the Rosh Hashanah reception at the vice president’s residence, Sept. 12, 2023

New Year’s celebrations unofficially kicked off on Tuesday evening at the U.S. Naval Observatory in Washington, where Vice President Kamala Harris hosted a poolside Rosh Hashanah reception in conjunction with the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Philanthropies. 

Roughly 150 attendees including rabbis, senators, activists, Jewish communal professionals and actors — notably “Will and Grace” star Debra Messing and comedian Alex Edelman — mingled over a menu of kosher passed hors d’oeuvres designed by cookbook author Adeena Sussman, whose new Shabbat-themed cookbook was published last week. Sussman’s lamb kebabs and tahini blondies were a hit among attendees.

Before Harris and Second Gentleman Doug Emhoff delivered remarks, musician Regina Spektor played an acoustic piano rendition of “Avinu Malkeinu,” a prayer recited on the High Holy Days. Spektor, who came to the United States as a child from the Soviet Union, commented on how she still feels a thrill upon seeing so many people wearing kippot. (The CEO of HIAS, which helped resettle Spektor’s family, quickly beelined to her after her short set.)

Emhoff and Harris touted the Biden administration’s efforts to combat hate and its national action plan to counter antisemitism to great applause. 

“This is one of those times in the history of our country and the world, where we are being presented with a wake up call — the blast of the shofar — to challenge ourselves, to ask, ‘What are we doing? What can we do?’ And know that we can do so much,” said Harris.

“We’re dealing with some very powerful forces that are attempting to wage, I think a full-on attack against hard-won freedom [and] liberty, and it is important for us to then be clear eyed about what is happening and what is at stake, and agree that we can do something about it,” she continued. 

Praising her “beloved Dougie” for his work “fighting hate in all of its forms, and in particular antisemitism,” Harris called on attendees to continue to stand up against hate in all forms.

“I think of this moment as being clear-eyed that in some ways, there is a venom coursing through our country. And we are the antidote. It is us who in this moment are prepared to rise and do what is important to unify our country and to bring us together and not allow forces to divide us,” said Harris.

“During the season of reflection, where we then think about where we are in preparation for a sweet new year, that is how I think about the job that is before us, knowing we are prepared and equipped to do all that is necessary,” she added, turning to Adas Israel Congregation’s Rabbi Lauren Holtzblatt, who had spoken prior to her. “The Talmud — Rabbi, if I may quote — ’it is not your duty to finish the work, but neither are you at liberty to neglect it.’” 

Emhoff, who has made fighting antisemitism a key focus of his tenure, described his travels this year to Poland and Germany, and to his old Jewish summer camp in Pennsylvania.

“Rosh Hashanah is a time to reflect, not only on the past year, but on what we hope to do in the next one. So this coming year, I’m committed to doing even more, pushing back even more, building more coalitions and bringing more people together in this fight with us, this fight that affects all of us,” said Emhoff. “I also want to remind you all: It’s great to be Jewish. Live with joy. Live with happiness. Live with passion. And enjoy that food.”

On the way out, attendees received a classic Rosh Hashanah gift — a jar of honey — adorned with the vice presidential seal.

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