By E.J. Kessler

Published June 27, 2003, issue of June 27, 2003.
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So what did they eat at what was reportedly the first all-kosher White House dinner? Caterer David Dahan told the Forward that the food at the June 11 event — held in honor of the opening of the exhibit “Anne Frank the Writer: An Unfinished Story” at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum — was “simple… elegant and totally American,” in keeping with the style of First Lady Laura Bush.

The comestibles? “Pea soup, fricassee of scallions, seared Copper River salmon, roasted shallot and red wine sauce, artichoke and cremini mushroom ratatouille, mache and seasonal greens, marinated beets and oranges, oil and vinegar dressing, frozen vanilla soufflé, raspberry coulis, summer berries.” Guests drank Hagafen Chardonnay and Hagafen Pinot Noir, both of the 2000 vintage. In order to ensure the kashrut of the affair, the caterer used his own china and pots. The White House press office said the dinner was private and declined to release the names of the attendees.

* * *

In other Bush-related news, Rabbi Arthur Schneier, a liberal Orthodox clergyman known for his international work and his silk-stocking Republicanism, gave the convocation at a fundraising dinner, which President Bush attended, held for the Republican National Committee Monday at Manhattan’s St. Regis Hotel. “O God, You helped President Bush rally the nation in the struggle against terrorism, tyranny and oppression and expand the frontiers of freedom and democracy for the benefit of all your children. Our President understands American power but he recognizes You, O Lord, as the only super-power,” Schneier told the assembled, according to a news release he issued before the event.

* * *

Connecticut Senator Joseph Lieberman is jabbing at Bush with new vigor, last week castigating the chief executive for having “a social agenda that is so right-wing that it has divided America at exactly the time we should be most united.” Pounding the theme, the Democratic presidential candidate also said that he would direct the nation “off the right-wing track George Bush put it on, onto the right track.”

Lieberman, speaking at a press conference in Manhattan, ventured his remarks without any apparent irony, given that some of his rivals to the left have been trying to paint him as too right-wing and accommodating to Bush for the liberal Democratic primary electorate.

The centrist contender emphasized his liberal domestic-policy credentials while sounding themes of “fiscal responsibility” and a strong defense, claiming President Kennedy as an inspiration for his politics and even quoting the slain leader’s remark: “To some generations, much is given. Of other generations, much is expected.”

Some observers are finding the tussle for the Kennedy mantle one of the more amusing features of current Democratic stump rhetoric: Massachusetts Senator John Kerry, the presumed front-runner of the presidential field, also quotes Kennedy and tries to evoke in his audience the voluntarism and civic participation that were part of the Kennedy élan. But there is more than enough “Kennedy” to go around. Kerry’s Kennedy is more the big-government liberal of the Apollo Project and the Peace Corps, while defense-hawk Lieberman tries to conjure Kennedy the Cold Warrior.

At Lieberman’s press conference, New York State Comptroller Alan Hevesi, the top-ranking Jewish official in Empire State government, announced his endorsement of Lieberman’s candidacy. Although Lieberman said he would use the articulate and voluble Hevesi as a surrogate speaker locally and in other states, the endorsement is being seen in New York mostly as an attempt to beef up Jewish turnout in the March 2 Democratic primary, especially in New York City; the Queens-born Hevesi proved a strong draw for Jewish voters in both the primary and general elections of 2002. No food was served at the press conference, although some reporters drank water.

* * *

Five months after the event, Rep. Eric Cantor of Virginia has paid for the January 23 fundraiser his campaign committee held at a Washington kosher restaurant, according to a story in the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

The campaign sent the check for $1,732.52 after the Forward ran a story last week noting that Cantor had failed to record any debt for the dinner in his first-quarter campaign filing, in what experts said might be a violation of federal election law. The law requires campaigns to pay for such services within 60 days or to list the debt in their reports.

The $500-a-plate fundraiser, a “sandwich naming party” at which Cantor was honored with an eponymous roast-beef-on-challah sandwich, was held at Stacks Deli — the only kosher deli in the District of Columbia — which is owned by Jack Abramoff, a top Republican lobbyist. Cantor, 39, is the House’s chief deputy majority whip and its only Jewish Republican.

Democrats pounced on Cantor’s slip with partisan glee. Citing the Forward’s story, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee said in a press release that Cantor was “caught in an ethical ‘pickle.’” The executive director of the National Jewish Democratic Council, Ira Forman, said in another release that the incident was “an embarrassment to the Jewish community” because “Cantor has been held up by the GOP as the leader of Jewish outreach” and so “has a unique obligation to represent the community in a positive light.”

Cantor’s campaign consultant, Ray Allen, told the Times-Dispatch that Forman’s comments amounted to “chicken droppings,” which we do not think go well with roast beef.

* * *

In other food-related news, Haley Barbour, who recently resigned as chairman of the Republican National Committee in order to run for governor of Mississippi, is discovering the political utility of Israel Bonds dinners. At one such event in Montgomery, Ala., last month, Barbour introduced the keynote speaker, Alabama Governor Bob Riley. Riley announced he would sign legislation authorizing his state to invest in Israel Bonds, according to an account of the affair in the Deep South Jewish Voice. Taking pro-Israel stands is a strategy deeply popular with the Republicans’ Southern Christian and Evangelical base. The dinner, which was aimed at the business and non-Jewish community and sold $6 million in bonds, was a first for the state, according to the Voice. There was no indication in the report of what the guests ate.

* * *

Some 500 attendees got a chance to munch on fried chicken and mashed potatoes as well as vegetarian fare Monday at a New York gathering to watch a satellite feed of former Vermont governor Howard Dean making his official announcement that he is running for president. “We knew we were going to be feeding a few hundred people, so we wanted it quick and easy,” said Dean spokesman Eric Schmeltzer. Last week, this column misreported the venue of the gathering. It was not at the 42nd Street headquarters of the SEIU 1199 healthcare workers union, but rather a block away at the union’s hall at 310 West 43rd St.

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