Monday December 10, 2007 was a water-shed day for the Israelite community in the Unites States. My wife Rabbinit Miriam and I attended a reception at the White House in honor of Chanukah. I was very surprised when I received a call from Jeremy Katz, the White House Deputy-Chief-of-Staff for Jewish affairs. We talked about my attending a private meeting with President Bush. In light of the fact that December was Human Rights Month, President Bush wanted to conduct a panel discussion on religious oppression. The President wanted to hear stories from different Jewish leaders who had suffered religious oppression in their native countries. After three conversations with Mr. Jeremy Katz, he understood that I was not from Ethiopia. The name of the congregation is Beth Shalom B’nai Zaken Ethiopian Hebrew Congregation. Ethiopia is apart of the name of several congregations of African American Jews. For the Black Jewish community, Ethiopia represents a distinct part of our heritage as Jews, therefore it is apart of our name. He explained that President Bush and his advisors, wanted immigrants to the United States at the private meeting. However, Jeremy invited Miriam and me to the Chanukah reception that took place that evening. About two-hundred and fifty guest attended the affair.
Rabbinit and I stayed about one block from the White House and the weather in Washington, D.C. was fantastic. When we arrived for the reception, we saw Rabbi and Rabbinit Manny Vinas, from New York, along with our beloved brother, Rabbi Gershom Simozu, from Uganda. It was at that time that I learned that my two colleagues, Rabbi Gershom and Rabbi Vinas, were at the White House for the private meeting with President Bush. I must say that I was filled pride to learn that two of my colleagues from the Be’Chol Lashon Think Tank, under the leadership of my good friend Dr. Gary Tobin, had the opportunity to meet personally with the President of the United States.
As invited guest, we had the opportunity to have our pictures taken with President and Mrs. Bush. The evening was truly a memorable one, which Mary and I will never forget.
I do not know if this is the first time that members of the Israelite community, were invited to the White House. Nevertheless, I felt the presence of Chief Rabbis Matthew and Levy, Rabbi Abihu Reuben, and all of the men and women that came before me, as I walked through the doors of the White House.
Rabbi Capers Shmuel Funnye