(March 13, 2023 / JNS) The White House hosted more than 70 community leaders on March 9, marking the Purim holiday with its first-ever Jewish Women’s Forum. Attendees hailed the event—part-mixer, part-holiday celebration and part-Jewish affairs state of the state—for its diversity.
The event included both practicing and non-practicing Jewish women who came from across the country, and those present were communal leaders, college students and employees of a range of organizations, attendees told JNS.
“It really spoke to the ability of the Jewish community to lead and mobilize on issues that we care about, both in terms of the Jewish community but also due to our Jewish values and building a strong community more broadly,” Darcy Hirsh, associate vice president for public affairs and government relations at the Jewish Federations of North America, told JNS.
Postings from attendees on social media and photos that emerged from the off-the-record event showed a who’s who of Jewish women on the left. Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers and a close Biden administration ally, appears prominently in the front row in one photo.
Conspicuously absent were Jewish women to the right of center.
Prominent Jewish columnists Bethany Mandel and Karol Markowicz, co-authors of the book Stolen Youth: How Radicals Are Erasing Innocence and Indoctrinating a Generation, which was released two days before the White House event, told JNS that neither was invited to the Jewish Women’s Forum.
The two collectively reach more than 260,000 followers on Twitter and are among the most prominent Jewish women writers for mainstream and conservative news publications.
“If they, in fact, didn’t have any conservative women, I’d like to know what the purpose was,” Mandel, who lives in Washington, told JNS. “They had one point of view present, and it’s one they already share.”
The teacher’s union head “kept a generation of children and working families at home for over a year,” Mandel added of Weingarten. “That is the kind of woman they had—one who denied kids an education and who kept women out of the workforce.”
The White House did not respond to a JNS query to talk to any attendees on the right side of the aisle.
‘A group of strong women all on the same page’
Attendees told JNS that both Doug Emhoff, Jewish husband of Vice President Kamala Harris, and Anne Neuberger, deputy national security advisor for cyber and emerging technology and an observant Jew, addressed attendees at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, next door to the White House.
Shelley Greenspan, White House liaison to the Jewish community, conceived of the event, which took place two days after Purim. Each attendee received mishloach manot—a holiday package that included hamantaschen, a box of Hershey’s kisses and a “Happy Purim” card with the presidential seal—attendees told JNS.
Several speakers at the event alluded to the Purim story, particularly to the heroine Queen Esther. “The theme was around women’s activism and women’s advocacy related to Purim. It was an opportunity to highlight the Biden administration’s work in support of the Jewish community more broadly,” Hirsh told JNS.
A speaker from the White House’s Gender Policy Council referred to the administration’s policies on child care, the Child Tax Credit and cyberstalking.
Both Emhoff and Deborah Lipstadt, State Department special envoy for monitoring and combating antisemitism, spoke broadly about the administration’s interagency task force, created late last year to combat antisemitism and other forms of hate.
Lipstadt also highlighted the increase in the Department of Agriculture’s distribution of kosher food at food banks.
A large portion of Emhoff’s remarks focused on why it is important for him to highlight his Judaism and to make it a central part of life at the White House. Neuberger spoke of juggling a demanding public role with living an observant Jewish life.
“It was really quite inspiring to hear from her about how she’s balanced it but also how in her various roles, the administration has really respected her level of observance,” said Hirsh.
The event included a White House tour and an hour for networking.
“There were so many women in the room that had only met one another over Zoom,” said Hirsh. “It was a really festive, positive opportunity for everyone to be together.”
Hirsh said the event had a very apolitical tone: “It was a group of strong women who were all on the same page—who all want to make change in the world, talking together about how to unite and do that.”
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