Women front and center at this celebration of Jewish American Heritage
Jewish women were definitely front and center at the first ever White House reception marking Jewish American Heritage month. Appropriately so, since it was a woman – Representative Deborah Wasserman Schultz – who spearheaded the Congressional campaign to establish Jewish American Heritage month. It was another woman – Marcia Zerivitz, who put the bug in Wasserman Schultz’ ear; and yet another woman, Abby Schwartz, who, as National Coordinator of the Jewish American Heritage Month Coalition, has worked tirelessly to turn a proclamation into a broad based local, regional and national celebration.
Of course there were plenty of men, famous and not, working the two rooms where beverages and food were served for an hour or so prior to the formal program. To the seated room where the formal program would take place, Justice Ginsburg entered together with Justice Breyer, and Michele Obama’s entrance followed that of Vice President Biden.
The program began with the entry of President Obama. In his welcoming remarks, the President mentioned only four historic Jewish Americans – Jonas Salk, Albert Einstein, Irving Berlin and Emma Lazarus. But he went on to say – “then there are the countless names that we don't know -- the teachers, the small business owners, the doctors and nurses, the people who seek only to live honestly and faithfully and to give their children more than they had.“ I couldn’t help but hear in this remark that well worn phrase “anonymous was a woman.”
Following the applause at the close of his remarks, the President invited Rabbi Alysa Stanton to the podium. Rabbi Stanton treated the audience to a stirring recitation of Emma Lazarus’ famous poem, The New Colossus. When she left the stage, the audience was asked to welcome Russian born singer-songwriter Regina Spektor. Accompanying herself on the piano, Spektor sang two songs that highlighted both her extraordinary vocal range and unusual vocal techniques. In the midst of the first song, Spektor, who has been performing for years, paused to share her nervousness with an “Oh man, this is hard.” Her candor further charmed an audience already charmed by her magnificent voice. I also easily empathized with her, awed as I was by the privilege of being in the White House to celebrate my heritage in the company of the President of the United States.
See more photos from the event on Flickr.