US Vice President Joe Biden on Tuesday night praised the Jewish contribution to American society, saying influential Jews helped change attitudes toward gay rights and same-sex marriage.
“The truth is that Jewish heritage, Jewish culture, Jewish values are such an essential part of who we are that it’s fair to say that Jewish heritage is American heritage,” Biden said at a reception hosted by the Democratic National Committee in honor of Jewish American Heritage Month.
Biden praised Jews’ ability to integrate, as well as the Jewish community’s unique and outstanding achievements. “No group has had such an outsized influence per capita,” he said, pointing to the high percentage of Jews in Congress and among Nobel laureates.
The success and values of today’s Jews stem “from over 5,000 years of Jewish history, tradition and culture: independence, individualism, fairness, decency, justice, charity,” said the vice president.
Biden said that when people talk about the civil rights movement, they must mention Jack Greenberg — a New York-born lawyer famous for fighting dozens of civil rights cases in the US Supreme Court — and the Jewish freedom riders.
He also cited American advances in music, science, technology and women’s rights as achievements of outstanding Jewish individuals, according to a transcript in Politico.
The media and arts were a step ahead of the public when it came to advancing gay rights, the vice president said. Public acceptance of drastic social changes took time. “It wasn’t anything we legislatively did. It was ‘Will and Grace,’ it was the social media. Literally. That’s what changed peoples’ attitudes.”
“Think behind of all that, I bet you 85 percent of those changes, whether it’s in Hollywood or social media, are a consequence of Jewish leaders in the industry,” he said. “The influence is immense.”
At the end of his speech, the vice president said the values stemming from Jewish tradition run deep in American culture. “Jewish heritage has shaped who we are — all of us, us, me — as much or more than any other factor in the last 223 years. And that’s a fact.”
Congress legislated Jewish American Heritage Month in 2006. President Barack Obama was the first president, in 2010, to mark it with a celebration.