December 19, 2011

The Significance of a Kosher White House Party

There was much ado in the media about the “koshering” of the White House kitchen for the annual Chanukah party which this year was almost two weeks early.  Kashering nowadays is common at major hotels and other prime venues. Some of the best known international chefs have at some point been exposed to what The New York Times called a “SWAT” team of rabbis that includes the use of a blow torch to kasher commercial ovens. It was former First Lady Laura Bush that first recognized the importance of koshering the White House kitchen rather than bring in the TV-style dinners that had been the custom at previous White House Chanukah parties. Chef Walter Scheib,  the White House Executive Chef (1994-2005) under Presidents Clinton and Bush, once described to me that day when the first koshering was done with the participation of Mrs. Bush. Scheib has his own business (American Chef) and is also available for upscale kosher events. He was honored earlier this year by Met Council on Jewish Poverty.

There was even the mention in one of the many articles on the Chanukah party that the prepared kosher dinner at the White House was a further sign of just how far kosher has come in this country. There is a great deal of truth in that premise. Kosher is widely available in this country and is today a $12.5 billion industry. But to me the significance of the White House event is the extent to which the Executive branch is willing to go to accommodate people who eat kosher. Whether the White House or any other house, accommodation for people who eat kosher should be the norm and there is no reason why the fare should not be consistent with the highest standards of kashrus so that everyone at the party can eat. The way I look at it, that is the significance of the Chanukah party at the White House.