EATING LATKES AT THE WHITE HOUSE
By Micah Halpern
Monday December 17, 2007
I ate latkes under the watchful gaze of President Abraham Lincoln. I could have chosen sushi, or gravlax, or glatt kosher roast beef or even lamb chops, but latkes, for me, was the appropriate choice. The latkes were more than delicious, they were symbolic.
Eating latkes, in the White House, as a guest of President George and First Lady Laura Bush, at their Chanukah party, symbolized for me the Jewish coming of age in America. On Monday, December 10th, the sixth day of Chanukah, the eve of the seventh Chanukah candle to be lit, the president of the United States of America, the most powerful man in all the world, chose to devote a large part of his day and evening honoring and celebrating with American Jews.
Think about it.
Think about how blessed the Jews of America are to live in a country that allows them to thrive and appreciates their contribution. Think about how lucky the Jews of America are to live in a country that so cherishes their participation. Think about how a community of immigrants that, like Horatio Alger, came to these shores and pulled themselves up by their bootstraps, has become a part of society and yet retained individual and communal identities as Jews. Think about a world leader who spent the majority of his day focusing on Judaism and issues of religious freedom. Think about the hours George and Laura Bush spent standing in a receiving line, meeting and greeting Jewish guests from around the country, shaking hands, being photographed, exchanging pleasantries.
Was it a waste of the president's time? A colossal waste of taxpayer money? A political statement? Not at all. It was a statement of purpose. It was a defining example of how the Jewish people now freely roam - literally and figuratively - halls of power in the United States. On that day there was nothing more important on the agenda of the president of the United States than to celebrate Judaism in the White House with American Jews.
Now think about other democracies around the world.
Think about the United Kingdom where terrible racism is eroding the fabric the monarchy tried so hard to knit together. Think about France where immigrant communities from Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia are greeted with hatred and disdain. Think about Germany where anyone from Turkey or North Africa is shunned. Think about Japan where a Koreans who came between 1910 and 1915 can never become citizens. And these countries call themselves democracies.
There is no historical precedent to match the position of Jews in America today. Yes, in various societies, in various historical periods Jews have reached positions of prominence, but never en masse, only as isolated instances. In Egypt in Babylonia in Greece and in Rome, in Poland in Germany in Russia, there were examples of Jews who rose to power and entered the halls of power - but not like America.
As I wandered from the Map Room to the China Room, as I rubbed shoulders with other guests spanning the entire spectrum of Judaism, as I shared a small portion of Torah with a Lubavitch rabbi and joined in a debate over the state of world terror today and as I exchanged thoughts with the President of the United States about our need to seek out and destroy those thugs seeking to destroy us I was reminded of other ways in which the United States has reached out to embrace Jews and other immigrant societies. I was reminded of the famous quote inscribed on the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia. The famous quote from Leviticus 25:10 reads: "Proclaim liberty throughout all the Land unto all the inhabitants thereof." The experience made me feel grateful but also greatly humbled.
The White House Chanukah party was not about politics, everyone knows that the Jewish community leans overwhelming democratic. The White House Chanukah party was about the success of America as much as it was about the success of the Jewish community.
I was honored to be invited, I was proud to participate.
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