In what has become a White House tradition since the administration of President George H.W. Bush back in the ’90s, a ceremony is held to honor the Jewish community by inviting leading Jewish communal leaders and individuals who interact with the administration on various levels impacting the community.
Over the years, the magnitude of the reception at the White House has evolved into a glattkosher affair with dedicated times for Minchah and Ma’ariv that has greatly enhanced the experience for the observant participant.
Chanukah this year was no exception as President Obama hosted two separate receptions to accommodate the many invitations extended to a diverse Jewish community. The idea of two receptions was instituted by the Obama administration and featured personalities such as Ambassador Stu Eizenstat, Secretary of the Treasury Jack Lew, Israeli Ambassador Ron Dermer, and numerous Jewish members of Congress.
“The announcement by President Obama at the onset of his remarks regarding the release of Alan Gross caused great joy for everyone at the White House Chanukah reception, and the personal acknowledgment by the president regarding the great importance of pidyon shvuyim underscores the sensitivity to a central tenet of our faith by a dignitary no less than the president of the United States. It was a testament to the level of acceptance the community has risen to—only in America,” said Ezra Friedlander, CEO of the Friedlander Group.
Agudath Israel trustee Chaskel Bennett remarked, “It is always an honor to be invited to the White House and in particular to be one of the representatives of the Orthodox Jewish community at the invitation of the president. The United States has historically proven to be a medinah shel chesed (a benevolent country) and after the Holocaust the broader Orthodox community thanks Hashem for allowing us to flourish on these welcoming shores. It is also incumbent to say thank-you to our highest government officials on behalf of a deeply grateful community. Chanukah at the White House is one such opportunity.”
Rabbi Abe Friedman, a community leader and law-enforcement chaplain who works closely with various federal agencies within the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, thanked the president in person at the Chanukah reception for the close cooperation between the government and the Orthodox and chassidic communities. The president responded, “That’s why we invited you, Rabbi.”
“Having been invited to the White House on the day of Alan Gross’s release was a unique opportunity to express our appreciation to the president,” said Joseph B. Stamm, CEO of MedReview, which is now celebrating its 40th anniversary of service to the healthcare industry.
Representatives of numerous Jewish organizations attended, in particular, representatives from a myriad of Orthodox Jewish groups that work closely with the administration, including Agudath Israel of America, the Orthodox Union, Chabad, and many others. Some notable Orthodox attendees included Malcolm Hoenlein of the Conference of Presidents; Rabbi Michael Miller of the JCRC; Nathan Diament and Allen Fagin of the OU; Bob Levy and Farley Weiss of the National Council of Young Israel; Rabbi Chaim Dovid Zwiebel, Duvi Gross, Abba Cohen, Chaskel Bennett, and Leon Goldenberg of Agudath Israel; Rockland County legislator Aron Wieder; renowned attorney Nathan Lewin; Chaplain Abe Friedman; Ezra Friedlander; activists Howard Freidman, Stanley Treitel, Benny Polatseck, Rabbi Daniel Ginsberg, Joe Stamm, Yoel Lefkowitz, Chanina Sperlin, Yaakov Behrman; and many others. The events were conducted under the auspices of Rabbi Levi Shemtov of the Washington Chabad whose organization certified the kosher preparation and serving of the food and who also arranged the private Minchah and Ma’ariv minyanim.