White House Welcomes Eclectic Mix of Jewish Americans

An eclectic mix of 200 Jewish politicians and literary, athletic, academic and entertainment icons joined President and First Lady Barack and Michelle Obama in the East Room of the White House Thursday afternoon in celebration of Jewish American Heritage Month.

Dining on elegant kosher food prepared under the supervision of Chabad-Lubavitch Rabbi Levi Shemtov, the guests – who included children’s author Judy Blume, boxer Dmitry Salita, and Alan Veingrad, the former Dallas Cowboys Super Bowl champion who went on to embrace his religious identity and encourage others to do the same – represented what many were calling a departure from the traditional invitees of Jewish functions at the White House.

Legendary left-handed pitcher Sandy Koufax, who famously refused to play on Yom Kippur in Game 1 of the 1965 World Series, “extended his right hand to me,” said Shemtov, “but I declined it, saying that it was his left hand that inspired so many Jews for so many years.”

Shawn Landres, director of Jewish incubator Jumpstart, told The Associated Press before the event that he was excited about the first White House reception in honor of Jewish Heritage Month, which President George W. Bush set into law in 2006.

“In the past, when there were Jewish events at the White House, they tended to go to the same well of people,” said Landres. “What I’ve noticed here is a commitment to go beyond that. The administration is trying to engage the Jewish community in different ways.”

Among the guests was Rabbi Chaim Bruk, the director of Chabad-Lubavitch of Montana who just a year after arriving in the state in 2007, presided over the construction of what is believed to be Montana’s first Jewish ritual bath in modern history. Bruk commended the Administration for highlighting the achievements of American Jewry.

“America has been a land of promise and opportunity for the Jewish people since its founding,” stated Bruk. “Events such as these underscore that truth. I was honored to be there.”

For his part, Shemtov, who as Washington director of American Friends of Lubavitch has been no stranger to White House functions, said that he looked forward to a continued dialogue between the president and the Jewish community. Just the day before, more than two dozen Democratic senators hosted a meeting with Jewish community leaders, including Shemtov.

“There are many policies and issues that impact the Jewish community directly, so it’s obviously always encouraging whenever government leaders seek input from the Jewish community,” said Shemtov. “It’s also a positive thing when Jewish contributions to American life are recognized so prominently.”

Source: Chabad May 28, 2010 5:45 AM