Celebrating Jewish American Heritage in DC

Posted on May 31, 2012 In Blog

By Nathan Diament, Executive Director of the OU/IPA

On May 30, lay and professional leaders of the OU community traveled to Washington, DC for celebrations in honor of Jewish American Heritage Month.

The festivities began as OU/IPA chairman, Yehuda Neuberger, and I joined 40 other Jewish community leaders at the residence of Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren for a celebratory luncheon.  Ambassador Oren delivered remarks surveying the state of relations between the American Jewish and Israeli communities in these challenging times, and convened a conversation among those present on the challenges at hand.

The celebrations continued and grew in significance as a few hundred people arrived at The White House for a celebration of Jewish American heritage.  Among the guests were OU managing director Rabbi Steven Burg, senior director Paul Glasser and myself with our guests Mssrs. Mitchell Aeder, Elly Kleinman and Alan Pfeiffer.  Also among the invited guests were Senators and Congressman, Administration officials and leaders from all walks of Jewish life.

President Obama addressed the gathering with remarks that extolled the Jewish history of communal advocacy – referring specifically to the community’s active response to Ulysses Grant’s infamous “general order 11” which would have expelled the Jews from areas of the country; an order reversed by President Lincoln and for which Grant expressed regret.

The reception was festive, not to mention fully kosher, and we were able to hold a mincha minyan in the Red Room.

In my role as the OU’s representative in Washington, I have been to The White House many times for many events.  And several people asked me whether it is no longer thrilling to attend such gatherings.  I respond to them as I write now: for centuries, heads of state were certainly not inviting members of their Jewish community to come to the palace for a celebratory reception, if anything, it was the diametric opposite.   We cannot be jaded or cynical about living in these times in the United States of America – where we are blessed to enjoy expansive religious freedom which has enabled Torah Judaism to flourish.

We must truly, and regularly say “God bless America.”