A New York City Orthodox rabbi says his popularity at the White House is probably due to his outreach efforts in the Muslim world. Rabbi Marc Schneier, is one of the very few Orthodox guests reported to be on the list for an upcoming White House reception celebrating Jewish Heritage Month. Even though the event itself was signed into law in 2006, this year marks the first time the White House has hosted a reception to celebrate Jewish Heritage Month.
Pundits are pondering whether the decision by President Barack Obama was part of the administration’s “charm offensive,” aimed at reducing Jewish anger over its hostile policies towards Israel. Slated to be held in the East Room, the fete promises to be a “Who’s Who” of American Jewish leaders in the arts, music, sports, the space program and other social arenas.
Other than Schneier, few — if any — are expected to be Orthodox Jews or rabbinical scholars. The rabbi, who heads two congregations in the Big Apple and spoke at the 2008 Democratic Convention, told the Associated Press that he believes he was invited for political reasons. Rabbi Schneier is president of the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding, an interfaith group he founded in 1989 with the late Joseph Papp. He also has a long track record in building ties with the black community, both in New York and nationwide.
“Our work is very much in concert with President Obama’s agenda,” said the rabbi, who has been a past guest at White House Chanukah parties. He added that this White House party will be different from the standard Beltway affair. “This is quite unique. It’s more exotic than the usual White House event,” he said.