Leaders of New York’s Russian-Jewish community attended a White House meeting last week with their eyes wide open. They knew that election-year politics might have influenced the invitation, several members of the delegation said.
But the Obama administration’s reason for holding the meeting is only secondary, said Roman Shmulenson, one of the nearly two dozen participants, whose comment was echoed by others. “What’s important is that a dialogue is taking place.”
The meeting included talks by four high-level administration officials, followed in each case by discussion, on such issues as national security, health care and the economy, participants told The Jewish Week.
Arranged by Jarrod Bernstein, the administration’s director of Jewish outreach, the Aug. 6 meeting was strictly off the record, with participants barred from revealing what was said. But the meeting is newsworthy nonetheless, representing the first time that a group of Russian-American Jews had been invited to the White House by any administration, according to one of the delegation’s organizers.
Members of the Russian-Jewish community have certainly been invited to the White House before, said Susan Green, director of administration and finance at the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York. But they were invited to the White House as members of other delegations, she added — not solely because they were Russian-American Jews.
The meeting followed months of discussions among JCRC officials, members of the Russian-Jewish community and Bernstein’s office, Green said, adding that their conversations took place in light of the community’s growing involvement in the political process. “It didn’t just happen in the blink of an eye.”
Once the meeting was arranged by the White House, Green and Michael Nemirovsky, the JCRC’s director of Russian-speaking community outreach, began consulting with leaders of the Russian-Jewish community about who should be included in the delegation.
It’s a community that leans right, that’s voted overwhelmingly Republican in the past two presidential elections and, according to one social scientist, that’s bound to vote overwhelmingly for Republican Mitt Romney this fall. [Read more]