December 18th, 2014
President Obama emphasizes freedom — of Alan Gross from a Cuban prison — and food
By RON KAMPEAS
WASHINGTON (JTA) — I’ve been JTA’s Washington bureau chief for 11 years, but this was the first time I scored a coveted invitation to the annual White House Hanuka party.
A Washington tradition started by President George W. Bush, the party has actually expanded (to meet demand) to two: one in the afternoon and one in the evening.
This year’s mood was particularly festive, given that the parties were on Wednesday, the same day that Alan Gross was released from five years in a Cuban prison.
President Obama, who earned enthusiastic cheers at both parties, is still a smart enough pol to have played that to the hilt.
“I’m told that in the Jewish tradition, one of the great mitzvahs is ‘pidyon shvuyim,'” he said to applause at the afternoon party. “My Hebrew is not perfect, but I get points for trying. But it describes the redemption, the freeing, of captives. And that’s what we’re celebrating today, because after being unjustly held in Cuba for more than five years, American Alan Gross is free.”
That got laudatory whoops.
Obama also emphasized another Jewish tradition: food.
“I spoke to [Gross] on his flight. He said he was willing to interrupt his corned beef sandwich to talk to me. I told him he had mustard in his mustache; I couldn’t actually see it,” the president said. Keep reading →