"President Biden and Vice President Harris’s positions and heritage are creating an exciting new chapter in Jewish, African American, Indian and women history", says one Jewish American Scholar in Rome, Andrea Stoler. Stoler, originally from upstate New York, who studied and received her Ph.D. from Northwestern in Chicago in Molecular/Cell Biology is very familiar with looking at situations in context not just individual events, interfaith marriages and multiculturalism in the United States.
At no time in American history has the immediate family of both the USA President and Vice President consist of interfaith marriages. For example, President Biden’s adult three children are married to Jews and Vice President Kamala Harris’s husband and stepchildren are Jews. In addition, the Vice President is the daughter of an interfaith marriage. Her mother immigrated from India and her father was born in Jamaica. She was raised in traditional Hindu and Christian traditions.
Biden stated in his inauguration address that the common objects that define us as Americans are opportunity, security, liberty, dignity, respect, and honor. Keeping with this theme, he has appointed Jewish, African American, Native American, Hispanic, Indian, Asian and women to his staff.
Never before in American history have so many prominent Jews been nominated to key positions in a Presidential administration. For example, Ronald Klain (Chief of staff); Anthony Bilken (Secretary of State); Janet Yellen (Treasury); Merrick Garland (Attorney General); Alejandro Mayorkas (Homeland Security); Avril Haines (Director of National Intelligence); Wendy Sherman (deputy Secretary of State); Eric Lander (Science and technology advisor); Ann Nueberger (Deputy National Security Advisor); and David Cohen (deputy CIA director).
Historic moments of cooperation are not new in Jewish history. It has been more than 50 years ago that a Jewish-Black alliance between an American Jewish Rabbi, Abraham Joshua Heschel (1907-1972) and an African American Christian Pastor, Martin Luther King Jr (1929-1968) occurred, where together they educated the masses against racism and Antisemitism.
"Currently, another important occasion is happening", says Stoler, where Georgia elected two senators, a Jewish American Senator, Jon Ossoff (1987– present) and African American Senator, Rev. Raphael Warnock (1969- present), again showing collaboration. "But this makes me think of other moments in history where Jews had special moments that included cooperation and tolerance, one from American’s past involving George Washington and the other entails Julius Caesar from Rome, which is where I live", states Stoler.
George Washington, upholding the ideals of the Enlightenment, granted religious tolerance and security to Jews. Due to this and respecting Washington’s ideals of being good citizens, the Jews responded by contributing economically in various ways to Washington's aims, thus helping his cause and contributing to the development of a new nation.
Julius Caesar was given military support by Jews at a critical moment in his fight in Egypt against Pompeii. They also contributed, in their own way, economically to what was the developing Roman Empire at the time. Due to this cooperation, Caesar granted religious tolerance and security for Jews. Thus, both gave Jews freedom to practice their religion, without interference granted them security and had a positive view of them.
These facts and living in Rome, I greatly appreciate what Julius Caesar did for the Jews and reminds me of a story concerning the Jewish Museum of Rome.
Jews have been in the Eternal city from around 161 BC, prior Julius Caesar and are the longest continuous Jewish Community in Europe. They were placed in the ghetto between 1555 to 1870, released upon the formation of the new country of Italy. Due to this, the Jewish community of Rome possesses an enormous heritage of art and documents amassed in its over two-thousand-year history in Rome, particularly during the ghetto period. Thus, the Jewish Museum has a unique collection of items and amazingly many items survived Nazi looting in 1943 because of an intriguing story that includes assistance and cooperation by non-Jewish Italians.
Tolerance and respect, even in a difficult climate, seem essential for a future. Similar to Washington and Caesar, Biden has asserted religious tolerance, safety and security, a positive attitude towards Jews and other diverse groups and is bringing these issues into the foreground. This may be more important than ever in facing the difficult times ahead, especially with coronavirus, for America and possibly the world.
Stoler, who lives full time in Rome continues to study the history of the eternal city from a Jewish perspective. She is an accredited tour guide in the Vatican Museums, making her the only Jewish American Woman to give tours in the Vatican and does so with respect and cooperation in mind.