Doug Emhoff has spent the weeks after the Hamas attack on Israel acting as a touchstone for some of the anguish, fear and anger felt by Jewish Americans.
Mr. Emhoff, the husband of Vice President Kamala Harris and the first Jewish spouse of a president or vice president, stood beside President Biden and condemned the attacks as terrorism. He met with Natalie Sanandaji, an American survivor of the assault. He visited Jewish schoolchildren, some of whom recently arrived from Israel, and told them they should not be afraid.
“Just know that I have your back,” he told a group of first and second graders last week. “And we’re always going to be there for you. I promise.”
From his second-floor office in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, Mr. Emhoff has used his faith to bring focus to a role that he is the first in American history to hold. He has largely left the politics to others, instead focusing on providing comfort, reassurance and solidarity to people in pain.
Recent federal data has showed that antisemitism is rising in the United States, as well as hate crime overall. Black Americans and Muslims are also disproportionately represented among victims. In an interview on Thursday, Mr. Emhoff was asked whether he could use his role — one that is powerful but a world away from the presidency — to help change those numbers.
“We have to try,” said Mr. Emhoff, who keeps an action figure of the woman he calls “my wife, the vice president” in his office.
“There’s an epidemic of hate, and it’s not just against Jewish people, and it’s really corrosive, and it impacts our democracy and our way of life and our safety. I’m going to do everything I can, and I know the administration will,” he said.
Just after the Oct. 7 attacks in Israel, Mr. Emhoff stood beside the president and addressed a group of Jewish leaders who had assembled in the Indian Treaty Room.
“I know you are hurting,” Mr. Emhoff, who is 59, told the crowd, some of whom were wiping their eyes. “The entire Jewish community is hurting. I’m hurting.”
Speaking next, the president promised the group that his administration was working to return American hostages, and told them that he had urged Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel to “operate by the rules of war.”