Local leaders join group in meeting with Obama

Local leaders join group in meeting with Obama

Jewish federation leaders listen to President Obama at a Nov. 9 reception at the White House; Max Kleinman, executive vice president of United Jewish Communities of MetroWest NJ, is third from right.
Jewish federation leaders listen to President Obama at a Nov. 9 reception at the White House; Max Kleinman, executive vice president of United Jewish Communities of MetroWest NJ, is third from right.

Three days after being a guest at the White House, Lori Klinghoffer said she is “still flying high.”

The Short Hills resident — who serves as president of National Women’s Philanthropy at the Jewish Federations of North America and is a former campaign chair for United Jewish Communities of MetroWest New Jersey — was one of 50 Jewish leaders to attend a reception at the State Dining Room on Nov. 9 with President Barack Obama and eight of his key advisers.

Other than one previous trip as a tourist, it was Klinghoffer’s first time at the White House and her first opportunity to meet a president.

“Whether you voted for him or you didn’t vote for him or you bought into all his campaign rhetoric, he is our president,” she said. “He is the leader of the free world, and as such he surely has my support.”

The visit was hastily arranged after the president cancelled his Nov. 10 speech to the JFNA’s General Assembly in Washington so that he could speak at the memorial service for the men and women murdered at Fort Hood.

“We only had 24 hours’ notice,” Joe Berkovsky, JFNA’s director of communications, told NJ Jewish News. “We knew Sunday about the switcheroo. It was really tight getting it all together.”

For Klinghoffer, it meant a swift change of plans.

“I was supposed to be chairing a session on religious pluralism when I got the invitation to go to the White House. I said, ‘I’ve got a conflict.’ I was told, ‘Go to the White House.”

Mark Wilf had been to the White House on earlier occasions. But, like Klinghoffer, it was his first meeting with Obama.

Wilf, a Livingston resident, is a board member of Jewish Federations of North America, a past national UJA campaign chair, and a past president of the Jewish Federation of Central New Jersey.

He called the meeting “a very positive gesture by President Obama and his staff. It was a very nice reception. He stopped by and shook hands. I just had 10 seconds to shake hands and say, ‘It’s an honor to meet you.’”

It was Max Kleinman’s first time meeting a president as well.

After the executive vice president of United Jewish Communities of MetroWest NJ shook Obama’s hand, “I told him that we are very proud that he was elected president considering his background, and we wished him much success — that his success is the success of the country.”

Kleinman told NJJN he was much impressed with the president’s 10-minute impromptu speech to the Jewish leaders.

“He indicated the important work the Jewish federations do in terms of providing safety nets, providing volunteerism and advocacy for the needs in our community, great social service work,” said Kleinman, adding that the president also said that “he and his administration wanted to collaborate with us in the future….”

According to reports, Obama, who dropped by for about 30 minutes, made a pitch on health-care reform and said he looked forward to meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu later that evening.

Prior to the president’s appearance, the Jewish leaders had a chance to shmooze informally with top administration leaders including White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, senior adviser David Axelrod, senior adviser Valerie Jarrett, Office of Management and Budget director Peter Orsag, and White House Jewish community liaison Danielle Borrin.

William Daroff, vice president of public policy and director of JFNA’s Washington office, said that the group discussed “issues of concern to the Jewish community, including social services, foreign policy, and the recession.”

It was a first visit to the White House for Westfield resident Bob Kuchner, the immediate past president of the Central federation. “It was an awe-inspiring experience,” he said. “We were in the halls of power, the focus of the office of the presidency. It was really cool.” He found Axelrod very personable. Emanuel, he said, seemed more pressured, “but he was probably involved in writing the president’s speech for the next day. We met one of the speech writers too. She said she would still be working for another seven hours. You could see why the staff needs to be so young and sharp.”

“It was mostly a social reception,” said Wilf. “There was not much substance to it except for the fact that it was very nice to have us over to the White House. There was no discussion about Israel per se. It was more focused on what the federation system means and the good work it is doing in our communities.”

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