Almost 400 people from across the political, diplomatic, business and Jewish communal arenas filled the Columbus Club and East Hall of Union Station in Washington, DC on Wednesday to mark the Annual Benefit Event of American Friends of Lubavitch.
The stellar event honored recent Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient Ambassador Nancy Goodman Brinker, who served as the US Chief of Protocol from 2007-2009 and founded the Susan G. Komen for the Cure.
The Leadership Award was bestowed upon Congressman John Lewis (D-GA), Sr. Chief Deputy Democratic Whip of the US House of Representatives. The Spirit of Freedom Award was presented to the men and women of the United States Armed Forces.
Dozens of ambassadors and members of Congress participated in this event, known as one of the premier evenings on the Washington Social calendar. One was able to see the Japanese ambassador perusing the magnificent kosher sushi display, and the Italian ambassador and his wife greeting friends, while an Army colonel only a few feet away was engaged in a deep conversation with a three-star general responsible for all the military’s logistics.
Many leaders of the United Jewish Communities and other Jewish organizations were spotted among the guests at the reception, schmoozing with ambassadors of several Muslim countries who were in attendance, along with numerous corporate leaders there representing their organizations in sponsorship.
Capitol Hill notables present included, among many others, Senator Joe Lieberman (I-CT), Senator Arlen Specter (R-PA) and the Hon. Steny Hoyer (D-MD), Majority Leader of the US House of Representatives, who took a moment to greet the guests, lauding the work of American Friends of Lubavitch in Washington.
“We’re honored and delighted to have so many members and leaders, from both parties and Houses of Congress and the Washington community, joining us here tonight to show support”, said Rabbi Levi Shemtov, Director of American Friends of Lubavitch.
After enjoying the superb catering presentation at the reception by Dahan of Washington, guests were welcomed into the East Hall by Mrs. Nechama Shemtov, where they heard from Israeli Ambassador Michael B. Oren, who remarked, referring to Iranian nuclear ambitions, “the test of our time is to stand up to the extremist threat.”
Rabbi Avraham Shemtov, National Director of American Friends of Lubavitch and Chairman of Agudas Chassidei Chabad, delivered the evening’s invocation and brought greetings on behalf of the international Chabad-Lubavitch movement.
Danielle Borrin, who serves as the White House liaison to the Jewish community, delivered greeting from President Barack Obama.
Rabbi Yudi Steiner, who together with his wife Rivky directs Chabad activities at the GW University, recited the opening hamotzie blessing.
Congressman Roy Blunt (R-MO) presented the Leadership Award to Congressman John Lewis, whose response moved so many in the room, including himself, to tears.
After emotionally recalling the non-violent struggle during his youth for civil rights, he said, referring to the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of blessed memory, “his words and spirit are in our hearts. People of faith are still lighting the way in the world because of the Rebbe. Men and women draw strength in their time of trial from the power of his love.”
A highlight of the evening was certainly the phenomenal entertainment by child prodigy Ethan Bortnick. An 8-year old musical genius, he has been featured on the Tonight Show, Oprah, the Today show, and on numerous media outlets.
It was a delight to watch this yarmulke-clad little boy, who attends a Jewish day school in his native South Florida, entertain hundreds of adults with classical and popular hits, as well as Jewish melodies like “Heveinu Shalom Aleichem.”
There wasn’t a dry eye in the house when he dedicated “G-d Bless America” to the “kids like me, who have to wait for their mom and dad who serve in the military to come home, and some of them have to wait forever.”
The Spirit of Freedom Award was accepted on behalf of the men and women of the United States Armed Forces by Lt. General Kathleen Gainey, who oversees logistics for the entire United States Military. The award, a beautiful silver menorah, will be dispatched at the discretion of the Joint Chiefs of Staffs for use on Chanukah by Jewish military personnel serving here and abroad.
Rabbi Yossel New, Director of Chabad-Lubavitch of Georgia, who came to Washington especially for this event, closed the evening with greetings followed by Birkat Hamazon.