Obama Honors Brooklynite Streisand with Yiddish Peroration

President Barack Obama recognized 17 Americans with the nation’s highest civilian award – Presidential Medal of Freedom – at the White House Tuesday, including film producer Steven Spielberg and singer Barbra Streisand. He also presented the Presidential Medal of Freedom to violinist Itzhak Perlman among others.

Speaking about Streisand, the president peppered his introduction with Yiddish phrases, such as “chutzpah” and “verklempt” (pronounced “fer-klempt”).

“I didn’t know you were Jewish, Barbra,” Obama quipped. “Barbra Streisand attended her first Broadway show at age 14 and remembers thinking, ‘I could go up on that stage and play any role without any trouble at all.’ That’s what’s called chutzpah… Off the stage, she has been a passionate advocate for issues like heart disease and women’s equality.”

“I’m getting all ‘verklempt’ just thinking about it,” Obama said to laughter as he read through Streisand’s list of accomplishments.

In his description of Spielberg’s work, Obama noted that his films “are marked most importantly by a faith in our common humanity — the same faith in humanity that led him to create the Shoah Foundation, and lend a voice to survivors of genocide around the world. His stories have shaped America’s story, and his values have shaped our world.”

The president also spoke about Perlman’s love for music. “He has played with every major orchestra in the world, conducted many of them, taught generations of young musicians. He has won Grammys. He has won Emmys. He’s performed with all the greats,” he remarked. “But what truly sets him apart and what makes him perhaps the most beloved violinist of our time is that he approaches music the way he approaches everything in life — with passion and with joy. He lays bare the soul of a piece, making us feel each note, and giving us a glimpse of something bigger than ourselves. And by doing so, he makes the world a little more beautiful.”

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