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August 5, 2022

Stefan Edlis Exhibition Opening

Remarks by

Ambassador Victoria Reggie Kennedy

Stefan Edlis Exhibition Opening 

Tuesday, April 12, 2022 

Jewish Museum Vienna 

Doctor Spera, Ms. Neeson, My fellow Ambassadorial Colleagues, Excellencies, Director Roščić, Ladies and gentlemen, 

I didn’t have the chance personally to know Stefan Edlis – but oh how I wish I had. He was a man who made invaluable contributions to the human spirit. Ms. Neeson – thank you so much for being here and helping all of us to know and honor your late husband. 

I also want to recognize and thank the musical artists who have shared their gifts with us this evening. The beautiful arias we heard remind us of the power of music to touch our souls. As Stefan Edlis understood, music, like every art form, inspires and binds us together as human beings.  The arts transcend geographic boundaries. 

Next month, in May, the United States will celebrate Jewish Heritage Month.  With this annual commemoration, we pay tribute to generations of Jews, who like Stefan Edlis and his family, shaped the civic and community life of the United States.

Ambassador Kennedy at the Jewish Museum Vienna
© Ouriel Morgensztern/JMW

The first Jewish community in the United States grew up in New England, not too far from Boston, in Newport, RI. In his 1790 letter to the Hebrew Congregation in Newport, George Washington, the first President of the United States, quoted from the book of Micah.  

May the children of the stock of Abraham who dwell in this land continue to merit and enjoy the good will of the other inhabitants – while everyone shall sit in safety under his own vine and fig tree and there shall be none to make him afraid. 

What a beautiful sentiment.  By the example of his life, Stefan Edlis surely merited and enjoyed the goodwill of everyone who knew him.  And when he and his family immigrated to the United States, they were able to “sit in safety,” and I hope there were “none to make them afraid.”  But, despite the circumstances of his family’s departure from Vienna, Stefan Edlis never forgot his roots in Vienna, and this exhibition about his life reminds us that America and Austria share and are shaped by the contributions of their Jewish citizens.  

Indeed, a quick review of Modern American History shows the transformative role Jewish leaders have played in helping to make the United States a more perfect union.  

We can’t talk about the civil rights movement in the United States without thinking of the young Jewish students who were freedom riders or about Jack Greenberg, the white, Jewish American attorney and scholar who headed the NAACP Legal Defense Fund for more than two decades and who worked alongside Thurgood Marshall on groundbreaking court cases – like Brown v. Board of Education that ended racial segregation in public schools. 

You can’t talk about the women’s movement without thinking of Betty Friedan.   

Or the gay rights movement without mentioning Harvey Milk.    

Or American advances in science and technology without Albert Einstein and Carl Sagan.  

Or music without George and Ira Gershwin, Bob Dylan, and so many other Jewish Americans. 

And you certainly can’t think of the support of the arts without thinking of Stefan Edlis. 

Jewish heritage, Jewish culture, and Jewish values are indispensable contributions to our common humanity and to making America truly America.  Those same contributions helped to build this great city and helped to make Vienna Vienna. 

Through the special exhibition we’re about to see, the Jewish Museum is showing all of us —Americans and Austrians alike — in a very meaningful way, that the history of our two countries is inextricably linked.  As U.S. Ambassador to Austria, I am very grateful for that.  And I am delighted and honored to announce that the exhibition on the life of Stefan Edlis is now officially opened. 

Have a wonderful evening.  

It is my great pleasure to welcome Dr. Spera back up to the podium for a few closing words. 

Thank you.