Photo Credit: Rebecca Nissel
Rebecca and Ralphy Nissel

Dear Papa and Mami in Shamayim,

You probably had the best view last night, a view from above. Did you see me walk up the ramp to the White House? Did you see me being welcomed to the White House?

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Papa, Mami, all I could think about, was the grave day in 1943, when four hundred of our prominent rabbanim approached the White House to meet with President Roosevelt so they could plead for Allied action to rescue European Jewry. FDR intentionally avoided them by leaving the White House through a rear exit.

The doors remained shut.

Sixty-five years later all gates and doors were flung open.

I smiled and did not stop smiling.

We posed for a photo in front of the large white wooden entrance doors with the brass handles that lead into the festive interior of the White House.

Members of the military welcomed us every step of the way; their boots gleaming and their elegant uniforms perfectly pressed.

My favorite line that evening was: “Welcome to the White House!”

Papa, Mami, did you hear that?

They welcomed me to the White House!

I continued walking on the red carpet hall lined with the most gorgeous red berry trees.

Snap! Snap! More photos. My red coat matched the trees.

I walked to the left into the Green Room, where on one wall facing the entrance, Jacqueline Kennedy’s portrait hung behind a brocade-upholstered sofa. She wore a wisp of a muslin gown; it barely touched her body and she appeared ghost like.

On the other side of the Green Room a vitrine, a glass display case, displayed rather large silver items: oval platters, cups, a tureen and jam pots.

On wooden shelves, dishes with the Presidential seal stamped in gold were exhibited.

A staircase led to the festive halls where we would spend the next two hours mingling with important diplomatic representatives and fortunate, invited guests.

Champagne-bearing waiters stood next to the door. Is it kosher? I asked myself.

And that’s when I saw the framed sign on the bar reading:

Chanukah Celebration At The White House
All food served at this event is Glatt Kosher L’Mehadrin

Papa, Mami, kosher food at the White House!

I reached for the champagne and made a l’chaim to the President.

The President’s Marine Band serenaded us, playing Klezmer tunes and sweet holiday melodies. I loved the scarlet, full dress coats they were wearing, replete with gold buttons and trim and the distinctive braid. Absolutely striking!

I made my way around the crowd which had gathered around the very large dining room buffet. I quickly glanced at the lamb chops and other delicatessen.

My husband took a seat on one of the few Chiavari chairs.

“I will be right back,” I said to him. I refused to be distracted by food.

Mami, did you see that the White House has almost the identical crystal chandelier we had above the table in our childhood home in Wien! I was so excited when I spotted the Empress Maria Theresa fixture. It hung over the lavishly loaded buffet table. Tiny white roses packed tidily into the shape of a ball were arranged in a tiered brass base on either side.

My feet glided effortlessly across the room; my eyes took it all in.

I headed to the East Room where the President would address his invited guests.

I befriended a few young ladies whose husbands were singing at the event. I decided right then and there that this would be the spot. I rooted myself and didn’t move until after the candle lighting ceremony and President Trump’s address.

I stared up at the ceiling. The chandelier, the molding, the wall sconces, the American flag; I saw it all.

But what I really saw was my life, floating by. Like I was, G-d forbid, entering into a surge of water – my childhood memories passed by, as in a 8mm movie-clip. In slow-motion I saw myself skipping to the Stadtpark, in Wien, with my sister, brother and cousins. I saw us watching the turtles in the cage, some crawling slowly, some asleep with their heads disappearing underneath the hard shell. All of us youngsters would meet on Shabbat afternoon, when the cold of the winter vanished on the horizon and the first sun rays warmed our little bodies. That was when we would gather by the Schildkroten, the turtle cage in the famous Stadtpark.

We were a small group amongst a large population of gentiles who didn’t like us very much.

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Mami, you dressed us immaculately, elegantly and had taught us perfect manners. I was raised with an excellent secular education, and absorbed all that my hometown could offer. At the age of twenty, I married a fine young man. He galloped into my parents living room, swooped me into his arms and together we flew off to far-away sunny California where we started our life. We brought up three sons who walked proudly with kippot on their heads to Jewish schools to receive a Jewish education. They had a choice of Jewish schools: in the valley, in the Fairfax area or in Beverly Hills.

Our children didn’t hear their father cry out in the middle of the night for fear of reliving the zahlappell, or roll call.

A light tap on my shoulders from my husband, Raphy, brought me back to reality.

“I just had a lovely conversation with Jason Greenblatt. What are you doing here?”

“I am not giving up my spot, I want to see the President close up and I want to hear him speak.” I said.

“Okay, then keep a tiny spot for me too. By the way, good location!”

Raphy walked off and once again I was left with my thoughts.

Just a few weeks ago, while on vacation in Greece, my husband received the following email:

The President And Mrs. Trump Request The Pleasure Of Your Company At a Hanukah Reception To Be Held In The While House
On Wednesday, December 5, 2018
At seven o’clock
Southeast entrance

The email was sent from the Orthodox Union, because Raphy serves on their board.

I reread the invitation over and over, that’s how excited I was. When we got home, there, between a stack of mail, was the actual letter: a beautiful blue and silver Request to Attend with the embossed presidential seal. I bought an elegant frame and let the invitation mingle with my children and grandchildren on the grand piano.

There are moments in life, such as the wedding of a child, when one must be totally mindful, completely aware of sounds and sights. Those big moments come and go so quickly we hardly have time to take it all in. This was one of these moments. That’s why I stood and waited for the most powerful person in the world to appear and talk to me, talk to the Jews, to honor and acknowledge our existence in this world.

What did the room look like?

What scent filled the White House?

What music did the Marine Band play?

Which flowers were displayed on the dining room table?

How often did I hear the sentence: Welcome to the White House?

All of us proud Jews who received this honorable invitation were warmly welcomed.

In my mind’s eye, this was all a dream, whilst simultaneously I was completely focused on what was happening around me.

The ornate, wooden, double doors in front of me opened and President Trump with his stunning wife at his side stepped on to the podium.

He delivered a passionate speech promising to always honor the State of Israel, our country, our homeland, as long as he is the President.

Papa, can you hear me; Mami can you see me?

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Rebecca Liebermann Nissel was raised by survivors of the Holocaust and educated at the Gymnasium of Vienna, Austria. She is a prolific author on a wide range of contemporary topics. Today, one can read her short stories in Jewish journals around the world. She resides in both Los Angeles and Jerusalem with her husband. She has three sons and k”h ten grandchildren.