Obama and Sandy Koufax 311.
(photo credit: AP)
WASHINGTON – As US President Barack Obama put it, it was a “pretty distinguished” group.
“We’ve got senators and representatives. We’ve got Supreme Court justices and successful entrepreneurs, rabbinical scholars, Olympic athletes – and Sandy Koufax.”
At that, the crowd gathered for the first ever White House reception celebrating Jewish American Heritage Month Thursday afternoon burst into applause.
Koufax, 74, the former Brooklyn Dodger southpaw who famously opted not to pitch in a crucial World Series game because it coincided with Yom Kippur, was the star attraction in a room packed with an array of political leaders, campaign donors, media figures, non-profit visionaries, youth leaders and others.
After introducing him to the 200 other guests, Obama indulged in some “Borscht Belt” humor, telling the audience that he and Koufax had some things in common. They’re both left-handed, for one. And, he continued, “He can’t pitch on Yom Kippur; I can’t pitch.”
Once the laughter subsided, Obama went on to tell the invitees, “The diversity of talents and accomplishments represented in this room underscores the vast contributions that Jewish Americans have made to this country.”
But he added, “Of course, it’s impossible to separate the achievements of Jewish Americans from the struggles of Jewish people around the world.”
He went on to speak of the importance of America as a place of acceptance and opportunity for Jews, despite periods of discrimination and rejection.
Obama stressed the importance the US places on the US-Israel
relationship as well as resolving the Middle East conflict, saying,
“Even as we never waver in pursuing peace between Israelis,
Palestinians, and Arabs, our bond with Israel is unbreakable.”
He described that bond as one between “two peoples that share a
commitment to a common set of ideals: opportunity, democracy and
Those ideals, he continued, are what have drawn so many Jews to
America, “and those ideals are what you and all Jewish Americans
continue to help us uphold each and every day.”
His remarks were greeted with a standing ovation. A warm greeting was
also given to first lady Michelle Obama and Vice President Joe Biden,
who hosted the event along with the president, when they preceded him
into the East Room of the White House.
In addition to Koufax, the guests included five-time Olympian Dara
Torres, Supreme Court Justices Stephen Breyer and Ruth Bader Ginsburg
and nominee Elena Kagan, and journalists Tom Friedman and Carl