newsJewish & Israeli Holidays


‘I have your back,’ Biden tells US Jews in pre-High Holidays call

The U.S. president voiced his administration’s support for Jewish security and made the dubious claim that he “was raised in the synagogues in my state.”

Apples, honey and pomegranate, which are traditionally eaten on Rosh Hashanah. Credit: Miriam Alster/Flash90.
Apples, honey and pomegranate, which are traditionally eaten on Rosh Hashanah. Credit: Miriam Alster/Flash90.

In a High Holidays call with rabbis and other clergy, U.S. President Joe Biden discussed his commitment to the security of American Jews and his relationship with Israel, as well as made the highly unlikely claim that he grew up in Delaware’s Jewish community.

“I know you’re concerned about security. As your president, I want to make clear to you and to all your congregations, I have your back,” Biden said during the 10-minute call, held on Sept. 14 in the evening, the evening before Rosh Hashanah begins.

Biden detailed his administration’s actions in support of American Jews, including securing an increase in congressional funding for the National Security Grant Program, which helps fund protective measures for religious institutions.

“Nobody should ever have to fear walking down the street wearing a symbol of their faith,” Biden said.

He said that his administration has “already started aggressively implementing” the nation’s first-ever national strategy on combating antisemitism, released in June. And he discussed his visit to Israel last year and hosting Israeli President Isaac Herzog in the Oval Office recently.

The U.S. president said he told Herzog “how proud I was of our support of Israel’s Iron Dome, which has intercepted thousands of rockets and saved countless lives in Israel.”

He also mentioned his nomination of Jack Lew as U.S. ambassador to Israel, which some see as a controversial choice given Lew’s extensive time spent in former President Barack Obama’s administration, and his public backing for the Iran nuclear deal and other controversial Obama-era policies on Israel.

“Jack has had an incredibly distinguished career,” Biden said. “He’ll be an outstanding ambassador.”

The president did not mention a meeting he is reported to have next week—but which the White House is yet to confirm— on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Biden also did not mention Israeli judicial reform, over which there are strained ties between his and Netanyahu’s administrations.

Biden, who has a long history of claiming false or exaggerated ties to the audiences with whom he speaks, said on Thursday’s call that he has long turned to rabbis as “such a source of strength and wisdom to communities across America.”

“I’ve long felt that strength and wisdom. I might say I was raised in the synagogues in my state,” he said. “You think I’m kidding. I’m not.”

The New York Post, which noted that Biden has also claimed “to have been raised by the state’s then-tiny Puerto Rican community,” reported that the president’s memoir and another book of his barely mention Jews and Judaism or synagogues. The Post also noted that Biden has falsely claimed to have visited the Tree of Life*Or L’Simcha Synagogue after the deadly attack at the Pittsburgh house of worship.

On the call, Biden acknowledged past and present rabbis at Beth Shalom Synagogue in his hometown of Wilmington, Del.

“You’ve always been there for my family in difficult times, as well as happy times,” he said. “It’s like all of you, who are always there, are your congregations and everyone in the neighborhood, Jewish or not. That’s the power of Jewish communities across America and around the world.”

The call with Jewish clergy also included a question-and-answer session with Neera Tanden, Biden’s domestic policy adviser, who is not Jewish and who has called U.S. recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights “a blatant political move.”

Three of four questions from rabbis, all of which were pre-selected, addressed the Biden administration’s general policy priorities and positions, including on the environment, affordable health care and the tone of public discourse. The fourth dealt with its next steps in implementing the national strategy on antisemitism.

“More than two dozen agencies are producing deliverables,” Tanden said, in response to the latter. 

She noted resource guides for houses of worship, which the Justice and Homeland Security Departments have published, and the Education Department’s resolution of a civil rights complaint filed against the University of Vermont for its failure to respond to antisemitic harassment.

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