President Bush and Laura Bush listen to the Indiana University Hillel a cappella
This Chanukah was particularly memorable for more than a dozen Hillel students who celebrated the holiday with President and Mrs. Bush in the White House. Not only did the Indiana Hillel a cappella group HooShir perform for two White House celebrations, but Hillel had a substantial presence among the Jewish leaders who met with the president to discuss higher education and international relations.
In an intimate morning conversation with 14 Jewish leaders – including the heads of Orthodox, Conservative, Reform and Reconstructionist seminaries – President Bush focused on Iran and the need for promoting values on campus.
“A lot of the conversation centered on Iran and on the president’s conviction that they not be allowed to pick up a nuclear weapon,” University of Maryland student Avi Mayer told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. “He said there’s no use in propping up despots, they have to be confronted and brought to task for their actions.”
Hillel Chairman Julian Sandler, another participant, reported that “there was a common refrain of the importance of values and how values are the most valuable antidote” to despotism.
The other Hillel participants were Rutgers University senior Danielle Josephs; University of Virginia sophomore Maya Pick and University of Texas at Austin senior Danielle Rugoff. Former Hillel President Richard M. Joel attended in his capacity as the head of Yeshiva University. After the meeting, the president invited the group into the Oval Office for photographs.
Later, the Indiana University Hillel a cappella group, HooShir, serenaded the president, first lady and Jewish Cabinet members during the private menorah-lighting ceremony inside the White House. Following the candle-lighting, the group performed for the 200 guests arriving for the Chanukah reception. Especially well-received was their doo-wop variation of “I Had a Little Dreidle.”
“The president looked a bit nervous at first,” said singer and student Andrew Landau. “But, you know, he’s a big supporter of Israel, so when we sang Hatikvah it was really special to see his eyes light up with, ‘Oh, I know this one.’”
Judah Cohen, the Lou and Sybil Mervis professor of Jewish culture in the Borns Jewish Studies Program, served as the group’s advisor. The Indiana University Alumni Association funded the group’s trip.
“This is what Hillel is all about,” said Indiana University Hillel Executive Director Rabbi Sue Shifron. “We collaborated with the university and added value to the entire campus community. We brought together a diverse group of students, including uninvolved Jewish students. And our students certainly had a meaningful Jewish experience.”
The event was covered extensively in the press and online.
To see video from the candle lighting, visit the White House Web page.
The Jewish Telegraphic Agency
University of Virginia
Washington Jewish Week
The Cincinnati Post