First Person: Mara Kochba's visit to the White House

'I have stars in my eyes,' I told Laura, 'whenever I see your husband.'

bush hanukkah 248.88 ap (photo credit: AP)
bush hanukkah 248.88 ap
(photo credit: AP)
I really wish my parents were alive. (Obviously, I wish this all the time; I still have frequent "conversations" with my mother. But when it is a special occasion, I really want to talk to them.) Last week, I yearned to dial my cell to their old NY number and say, "Mom, Dad, I'm in the White House having latkes..." I worked hard raising funds for the RNC and I didn't want to get paid; I only wanted an invitation to the Presidential Hanukka Party. Friends who had attended previously were enthralled; even the "jaded" ones loved it. Now I know why. There was a significant LA contingent, eight of whom stayed in the same hotel as me. I decided that we should get a limo. I was expecting what I'd ordered: a dignified black stretch for eight. Instead we got a "prom" limo - you know, the kind that teens love to have: a half-block long white stretch Humvee!! It could've held 20. We were all hysterical laughing as we "women of a certain age" (not to mention the men) tried to climb into this thing. Once we passed though security (this ain't TSA, this is the WH - polite Marines in dress uniforms and secret service personnel) and actually entered the White House, it was enchanting. The holiday decorations both outside and in were magnificent. Lest any of you BHO fans decide to sneer, this event is not partisan: It is for national Jewish leadership, party affiliation and denomination not essential. Out of the 400+, I knew about 150, which included many Democrats who are either professional or lay leaders of major American Jewish organizations. There are lines. Lines to have your photo taken with the president and Laura Bush; lines to go to the food... I decided to do the photo op first, and get it out of the way. The line moved steadily and fast, each photo op taking 60 seconds. I was on line with Josh and Ilana Mandel from Cleveland. He's the rising star in the firmament of Jewish elected officials. Behind Eric Cantor, he could be the first Jewish president. Now, I have to admit (like everyone else who prepared a sentence to say to the prez) I was decked out for the occasion. Many years ago, I had a pair of eyeglasses custom-made: the lenses in the shape of six-pointed Stars of David. No, I can't see a thing. Old prescription, not bifocals. But they are a kick to wear and people keep staring at me - which I loved, right?! A Marine escorts each person (or couple) through a maze up to the First Couple. You are told to shake Laura's hand first, then the prez, then turn on the prez's left and smile for the camera. Sixty seconds. That's it. Move on... I walk up to Laura and shake her hand. She pauses, looking at my glasses. "Are those what I think they are?" she asks, smiling. I reply, "Yes, Ma'am. Whenever I see your husband, I have stars in my eyes!" Laura laughs. The prez is sort of oblivious. (Besides standing on line to have his photo taken with 400 Jews, he just barely got off Air Force One from Iraq a couple of hours before.) But he sees Laura laughing and says, "What's the joke?" I respond, "Well, I asked if I could take off my shoes..." Quick as he is, the prez retorts, "Just don't throw them!" Turn, photo, out the door. Walk out and literally bump into Sen. Joe and Hadassah Lieberman talking with Sheldon and Miriam Adelson. Stand a moment till Hadassah recognizes me; hugs and introductions all around. Made my way to the room where the food was. Absolutely delicious. Table hopping. Greeting people I know. Meeting people I don't know. Chatting with Rove, Cantor and others. Sat down at a table with LA friends - and Attorney General Mukasey and his wife. I asked him, "Can we send Madoff to Guantanamo? No one deserves it more." The AG smiled and sighed, "No, he's an American citizen. We can't do it." Too bad. In the food room, there was a male Jewish choir singing modern Israeli songs. In the great hall outside, the full-dress Marine band was playing Jewish music. Many people were there because that is where the large menora was lit - in an alcove, up steps, guarded by Marines. So no one went up. Except... I wanted a photo (many of my friends had cameras) and realized that if I stood down below, the picture would show me with the candles coming out of my head. So I slid under the velvet rope, walked up to the menora, turned and posed. By the time the Marines got to me, Stan had already taken the picture. Can't wait to see it! The Marine band hit Hava Nagila (what else?) and I got up and pulled a couple of women with me. Before you knew it, there were two circles going and the band played on. Apparently, no one had ever danced the hora before. We had so much fun, I get tears in my eyes writing this. In what other country in the world does the president, prime minister or king open his official residence for a Hanukka celebration for the nation's Jewish leadership? Only in America. We were all so proud: friends who are children and grandchildren of Holocaust survivors; those who got out of Iran in '79; third generation (on my maternal side) and more, like me. It was something wonderful. I never felt so patriotic... and so Jewish.