For Samantha Power, Support for Israel Is Deeply Personal & Proven

— by Jason Berger

On Saturday, The Jewish Daily Forward‘s Nathan Guttman published an article on Samantha Power, President Obama’s nominee for U.N. Ambassador, and her commitment to Israel. Guttman’s piece opened with a story from 2009 in which Power is meeting with Israeli officials. In the middle of their discussion, she pulled out a picture of her son and described how her husband Cass Sustein is a descendent of the, “Vilna Gaon, Rabbi Eliyahu ben Shlomo Zalman Kremer, the 18th-century Jewish sage who is considered the greatest talmudic scholar of his time.”

Guttman concluded that while this might partially explain Power’s commitment to Israel, it is not the only reason. Former Deputy Chief of Mission at the Israeli Embassy in Washington D.C. Dan Arbel explains that for as long as he has known Power, her strong sentiment towards Israel has always been second nature. He states, “Her starting point has always been, ‘How do we work together to overcome obstacles and to ensure that both the United States and Israel get out of these U.N. situations with the least damage?”

Guttman also discussed how Power dealt with almost every Israel-related issue at the U.N. during Ambassador Susan Rice’s tenure. According to an Administration official, “She was involved in any brush fire at the United Nations. After [U.N. Ambassador] Susan Rice, she was the most influential person on U.N. issues.”

More after the jump.
Most impressively, though, are the Israelis who are praising the Power selection. Guttman noted:

Israeli officials noted Power’s leadership role in getting the administration to pull out of the 2009 Durban II anti-racism conference because of its anti-Israel bias. They also applauded her work in defeating the P.A.’s 2011 drive to achieve recognition for Palestine as an independent state through the United Nations Security Council. Power’s strong profile on these two issues, said Jarrod Bernstein, who served until recently as liaison to the Jewish community at the White House, shows “two instances in which she distinguished herself as being on the right side of the community.”

Power also participated in discussions that sought to dissipate the difficulties that Israel faced as a result of the 2009 Goldstone Report, which alleged that Israel had committed war crimes during its military campaign in Gaza the previous year.

Power was instrumental, too, in protecting Israel following the widespread condemnation it faced in 2010 for its attack on the Mavi Marmara, a Turkish ship that sought to deliver a shipment of humanitarian goods to Gaza in violation of the blockade that Israel had imposed on the territory. Before leaving her NSC post, Power, according to an official involved in those talks, worked on strategies for preventing Israel’s adversaries in this episode from pursuing their case at the International Criminal Court in Hague.

Jack Lew’s Shabbat Helper

— by Nathan Guttman

Reprinted courtesy of The Forward

When Jack Lew was appointed chief of staff to President Obama in January, many in the Jewish community wondered how he could observe Shabbat in such a demanding position.

Luckily, Lew has the most powerful man in the world to keep track of time as the sun starts to dip low in the sky on Friday afternoons.

“I saw the president on many occasions on Friday afternoons look at his watch, and ask: ‘Isn’t it time for you to get going?'” Lew said, “or, ‘Why are you still here?’ The president was not checking the clock “because he doesn’t think I can keep time,” Lew said. Rather, the extra care on this issue reflects the President’s wish “to remind me that it’s important to him, not just to me, that I be able to make that balance.”

Lew, who is Orthodox, revealed the details about his keeping Shabbat in an extraordinary interview with the Forward that touched on his need to observe the Jewish holy day.

“And he’s respected that time and again,” the chief of staff said of Obama.

The chief of staff noted it was Obama who brought up the issue of Shabbat when first offering Lew the job.

“He raised it with me saying: ‘I know that things are going to come up where there’s an emergency on Saturday or that you need to be here. I know you well enough to know that this is not an issue. I want you to know that I’m never going to ask you to work on Saturday if it’s not really necessary. It’s important for me that you know that.'”

On his behalf, Lew provided the President with his own assurances.

More after the jump.
“I’ve made it clear,” Lew said, “that you don’t have to wonder if there’s a crisis whether I’m available. If you need me, I don’t even consider it a violation of my faith to be doing the things I need to do to make sure people are not in harm’s way.”

In practice, this arrangement has worked out well. On Fridays, Lew leaves the White House before Shabbat begins and he is off on Saturdays. In the cases where his presence was needed on Shabbat, the chief of staff usually walked to the White House and back.

Rabbis he consulted with assured Lew that when there is a real necessity, Jewish tradition approves of working on the Sabbath. The number of times Lew actually had to work in Saturday has been “limited,” he said.

Lew had dealt with the potential conflicts between observing Shabbat and working in top level positions under President Bill Clinton, when he served as the White House budget director. Clinton made sure not to have his top budget adviser busy from sundown Friday to the end of Saturday, and Lew made himself available when emergencies occurred.

“I have found that if you are true to your own beliefs, people respect it,” Lew said. “I’ve found that President Obama considers it a sign of strength and value that there is something in my life that reflects principles that I adhere to.”

Reprinted courtesy of The Forward.

Celebrate Passover with Recipes from the White House!

— by Max Samis

In preparation for the upcoming Passover holiday, President Barack Obama invited members of the Jewish community to the White House for a special cooking demonstration and discussion. Sponsored by the White House Office of Public Engagement and the National Endowment for the Humanities, White House chef Bill Yosses worked with Jewish chef Joan Nathan to demonstrate how to make, among other dishes, apple and pear charoset and matzo chremsel.

Haaretz writer Vered Guttman was one of the guests invited to the event. Guttman wrote:

Before the seder each year, guests are asked to send Bill and White House executive chef Cris Comerford their own family’s Passover recipes. The chefs then design a menu for the seder and prepare the dishes according to the guests’ recipes.

In previous years they served the classics: haroset and brisket. When we met Wednesday. Bill said they were still working on this year’s menu. He did know, however, which desserts would be served: A flourless chocolate cake (which he promises will be on the White House website before the holiday) and a delicious sounding apricot roll cake, that he was kind enough to share the recipe with me. Bill gets extra points for a dessert that is not only fabulous, but also inspired by Middle Eastern cuisine. Does the president eat Jewish or Israeli food during the year? I asked.

‘The president LOVES Israeli couscous!’ Bill didn’t have to think much before he answered. Since Israeli couscous is one of the most popular foods imported from Israel, it is often the target of boycott threats by anti-Israeli groups.

More after the jump.


Joan Nathan and Bill Yosses preparing haroset together at the White House. Photo by Vered Guttman

In addition to the President’s love of Israeli couscous, Guttman spoke with Yosses about other Israeli foods used in the White House. Guttman wrote:

Obama keeps a very open mind about food and likes to try new dishes, Bill told me. He added that the Israeli produce imported to the U.S. is known at the White House kitchen to be of highest quality and the chefs like to use Israeli vegetables and fruit. He could not tell me where they get their produce, as the White House chefs are instructed not to reveal their suppliers for security reasons.

As Joan began her demonstration, she told us that the Passover seder is the holiday most-observed by American Jews. Joan herself will host 44 guests at her house in Washington next week. ‘Nowhere in the world, except for Israel and the U.S., do Jews feel that comfortable,’ Joan said as she started her cooking demonstration.

It has been a tradition since the 2008 presidential campaign for the Obama family to host a private seder for their Jewish staffers. In a 2010 article in the New York Times, Jodi Kantor wrote about the seder’s roots in Pennsylvania and how it has grown. Kantor wrote:

One evening in April 2008, three low-level staff members from the Obama presidential campaign — a baggage handler, a videographer and an advance man — gathered in the windowless basement of a Pennsylvania hotel for an improvised Passover Seder.

Suddenly they heard a familiar voice. ‘Hey, is this the Seder?’ Barack Obama  asked, entering the room.

So begins the story of the Obama Seder, now one of the newest, most intimate and least likely of White House traditions. When Passover begins at sunset on Monday evening, Mr. Obama and about 20 others will gather for a ritual that neither the rabbinic sages nor the founding fathers would recognize.

As the White House seder grows in scope and tradition, American Jews can be proud that the President of the United States will once again be observing Passover in the White House.