Will Naval Observatory tradition continue?
Earlier this year in May, Vice President Mike Pence hosted the first-ever White House event celebrating Israel’s Independence Day. However, Pence does not appear to be continuing a tradition from the prior administration of inviting Jewish leaders to the Vice President’s residence in honor of the upcoming Jewish New Year.
The event, often held in the backyard pool area of the U.S. Naval Observatory residence, was considered by attendees to be more exclusive than the much-hyped annual White House Hanukkah party.
“For Vice President Joe Biden and Dr. Jill Biden, many of their friends in the Jewish community were like family and in some cases they actually were family, as two of their children married Jewish spouses,” Matt Nosanchuk, a former White House Jewish Liaison in the Obama administration who helped organize the annual event, explained. “The reception was something that the Bidens wanted to host at their home, and it was very much rooted in their own experience in and relationships with the American Jewish community.”
As of Thursday, sources confirmed that no invites have been sent for a similar gathering at Pence’s home this year.
“The Trump Administration will be commemorating the upcoming High Holidays in several ways,” Natalie Strom, a White spokeswoman, told Jewish Insider in an email. ”President Donald J. Trump will hold a conference call with Jewish leaders and staff to send well wishes for the upcoming holidays and discuss his Administration’s progress on issues of interest to the Jewish community.”
Last month, a group of Rabbis announced they would not participate in a pre-High Holidays call with the President in protest of his response to the Charlottesville rallies.
Organizing the now highly-anticipated call with Jewish leaders — mostly from groups supporting the administration — at the last minute and the limited White House access many Jewish communal leaders face, points to the Trump administration’s lack of an official Jewish Liaison. Two months ago, several members of Congress wrote a bipartisan letter to President Trump urging him to continue a 40-year tradition by immediately appointing a White House liaison to the Jewish community.
According to Jarrod Bernstein, another Obama White House Jewish Liaison, Biden — through his personal relationships over decades and serving as a U.S. Senator for so long — developed an appreciation of what’s significant to the American Jewish community. “For Biden, it was very personal. Joe Biden views the Jewish people as ‘mishpucha’ (family). And so when he had those events, for him it was like inviting a mishpucha over for yom tov,” said Bernstein.
Noam Neusner, a former White House Jewish liaison for President George W. Bush, echoed similar sentiments. “Biden was one of the most experienced, garrulous and longest-serving politicians to ever serve as vice president – no surprise that he knew how to hold events that would impress the community with his interest and attention,” Neusner asserted. “I’m not sure a Jewish liaison made the difference.”
Asked about Biden’s tradition last week, Pence advisor Tom Rose emailed that it was a “good idea. Should have thought of it.”
Nosanchuk, who served as the White House Jewish liaison for nearly three years during Obama’s second term, said a lot of effort went into organizing the event. “Unlike the White House Hanukkah receptions, which were large events of more than 500 people per reception, the Bidens’ reception was much smaller – it was strictly limited to around 175 people, and we worked hard to develop a good guest list. The event provided an opportunity for the Bidens to welcome many friends into their home, and they made sure to greet and give a warm hello (with a photo) to each and every one of them”
The event “allowed for an informal, yet substantive exchange with Biden who made it a point to invite a diverse audience,” said Ezra Friedlander, CEO of The Friedlander Group. “However, we need recognize that every administration should be allowed develop its own unique approach and original style of outreach to the Jewish community.”