After canceling his scheduled speech at the Jewish federations’ General Assembly in light of the massacre at Fort Hood, President Barack Obama hosted a group of 50 federation leaders for a Monday evening reception at the White House.
The first-of-its-kind was mostly informal. President Obama, according to one participant, walked into the room and engaged in conversation with some of the Jewish leaders. After a few minutes of working the crowd Obama stepped up to the podium and read from his prepared notes.
He thanked the Jewish federations for their daily “selfless acts of tzedaka” and said that while living in Chicago he became acquainted with the work of the local federation and was impressed by what he saw.
Obama, apparently aware of the work done by the Jewish federation system on healthcare issues, stressed the importance of passing comprehensive healthcare reform and said he can already see the light at the end of the tunnel. According to one participant, Obama said it “is important to ensure that in a rich country like ours” everyone has access to healthcare.
“To have the opportunity to speak with the president and to socialize with members of his senior staff is a once in a lifetime opportunity,” said William Daroff, vice president and Washington director of the Jewish Federations of North America, the federations’ umbrella group that is sponsoring the General Assembly. “This really helped push the ball forward on public policy.”
The president refrained from discussing issues relating to the Middle East, and said only that he was looking forward to his meeting with Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu; their meeting was scheduled to take place at the White House an hour later.
After Obama left the room, Jewish representatives stayed on and spoke with White House staff members who also attended, including chief of staff Rahm Emanuel, and senior advisers David Axelrod and Valerie Jarrett.
The gathering marked Obama’s second meeting with Jewish officials since taking office. The first meeting was a roundtable discussion with leaders of Jewish organizations that deal primarily with foreign policy issues relating to Israel. Monday’s meeting was attended exclusively by federation officials.
Nathan Guttman, staff writer, is the Forward’s Washington bureau chief. He joined the staff in 2006 after serving for five years as Washington correspondent for the Israeli dailies Haaretz and The Jerusalem Post. In Israel, he was the features editor for Ha’aretz and chief editor of Channel 1 TV evening news. He was born in Canada and grew up in Israel. He is a graduate of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.