“What will you tell the President when you see him?” was my daughter Eva’s first reaction when I told her I’d been invited to the White House Channukah party (Actually, it was her second reaction. Her first was, “Take me!”). Kids are innocent that way. They don’t realize that when you have over a hundred people crowding the leader of the free world, it’s not so easy to get in a word edgewise.
But I got lucky. It’s not what I told the President that mattered, it’s what I heard him say when few people were paying attention.
After the president made his Channukah remarks and the lighting ceremony was over, he came down to greet the thick crowd of guests along a receiving line.
Because the Glatt kosher lamb chops were so amazing, and my friend Selwyn Gerber and I were completely immersed in the shmooze-with-every-cool-Jew routine prior to the President’s arrival, I came late to the waiting crowd, which means I ended up about four rows back.
Here’s where my luck kicked in. There was an imposing and tall white-haired gentleman to my right who had a booming voice and was determined to say something to the President (I think he may have had a few single malts, but that’s another story.)
So, when the president got closer to us, and I was prepared to launch my very tame, “Mr President, do you have a message you want to share with the Jews of Los Angeles?” line, THE MAN TO MY RIGHT launched the most brilliant Presidential Channukah greeting of all time:
“Mr President,” he said in his booming voice, “when I told my Christian friend I was coming to a Channukah party at the White House, he told me, ‘I didn’t know the President was Jewish!”
The President let out a serious belly laugh. But in all the commotion of people asking other questions and everyone clicking their smart phone cameras, it was easy to lose sight of the president to see if he had anything to say.
I kept my eyes straight on him. It was clear that the “President was Jewish” idea had intrigued him. After about three or four seconds, as he was walking away, and looking at no one in particular, the President just said, “I am, in my soul.”
So, there you have it: The leader of the free world says he’s Jewish, in his soul.
Happy Channukah, Eva.