NEW YORK – Scheduled to address the United Nations just hours before the start of the Shemini Atzeret festival on Monday night, Israel’s first-ever Observer Prime Minister Naftali Bennett was forced to stay in the United States an extra day for the second time in a month, in order to avoid violating the traditional observance of the holiday.
But the prime minister took the opportunity to return to the modern Orthodox synagogue he and his wife attended some 20 years earlier when they lived in Manhattan as he launched his tech start-up.
Kehilath Jeshurun (KJ) greeted Bennett and his entourage, with his Senior Rabbi Chaim Steinmetz introducing the Prime Minister to the crowd of nearly 150 before the start of services.
Bennett then made remarks between the Mincha and Maariv services, extending a time slot of 15 minutes to recall with emotion its history with the synagogue which began on a whim.
In one of his favorite stories to share in front of an American Jewish audience, Bennett recounts how he and his wife Gilat were walking on a Sabbath afternoon on the Upper East Side when they passed a KJ sign reading “Beginner’s Minyan.” .
Sold by its inclusion of a free after-sales service kiddush buffet, the young couple began to attend.
“The prime minister said it was here, not in Israel, where his secular wife made a connection to Judaism,” a devotee recalled Monday.
“It was a very warm speech during which he also spoke about the bonds that unite the Jews here and in Israel,” said another participant. “It was a very warm place, well-being dvar, but light on the issues.
Monday’s circumstances were far more festive than those which prompted Bennett’s last extended stay in the United States in late August. Then, a suicide bombing at Kabul International Airport, killing 13 US soldiers and some 170 of the civilians they were helping to evacuate from Taliban-ravaged Afghanistan, led US President Joe Biden to postpone his office meeting. oval with the Israeli Prime Minister from Thursday to Friday. . Unable to leave the hotel due to the Department of Health’s strict coronavirus guidelines, Bennett attended Friday night services and dinner in the ballroom at the Willard Intercontinental.
This time however, the extra day in the United States was planned in advance and he was able to celebrate Chemini Atzeret with the same rabbi who greeted him with his wife two decades earlier – Haskel Lookstein, who was present on Monday evening in its quality. as KJ’s Rabbi Emeritus.
Entrance to the synagogue was limited to certain members, as well as Bennett and his team. As their religious colleagues took the night to pray in other shuls, non-practicing members of the traveling press lined up at the corner of Park Avenue and 85th St, hoping to take footage of the prime minister. returning to the Hotel.
It would be a unique sight as Bennett was going to walk a mile and a half to the Loews Regency Hotel in the city center, rather than taking the procession that brought him to KJ before the start of the vacation.
While awaiting Bennett’s reappearance, longtime photographer Shahar Azran entertained the press, sharing photos and stories of the various prime ministers he covered on overseas trips to the United States. The one in which Ariel Sharon found himself chatting with Michael Jackson over dinner for ten minutes before turning to an assistant and asking who the young woman had laughed the most.
After the services ended, members started to walk out of the synagogue, and the motorcade slowly descended on Park Avenue.
-איסט-סייד, אליו נהג גילת בניו יורק. הגעה בשיירה. התפילה, מפגש, לחזור למלון ברגל pic.twitter.com/a4fxP1RsVk
– Tal Schneider ال شنايدر (@talschneider) September 27, 2021
Convinced, however, that the convoy was a decoy designed to drive them away from the Prime Minister, the half-dozen Israeli journalists rushed to Lexington Avenue, convinced they would catch an unsuspecting Bennett there.
But the Prime Minister had actually walked about 25 blocks on Fifth Avenue, glancing across Central Park as New Yorkers stared, wondering who the guest needed to be. a procession of dozens of vehicles that were not even used.
The press finally caught up with Bennett as he turned on 61st, capturing the unique moment on their phones as NYPD agents shouted at them to stay on the sidewalk.
“Shabbat Shalom, Mr. Prime Minister,” one of the secular journalists shouted at the prime minister, mistaking Shemini Atzeret for the Sabbath.
The Prime Minister waved before being led by his security service to the hotel.
The traveling press then debated among them whether the strange scene they had just documented was newsworthy enough to feature on the next day’s show.
“I use it. What other news happens on the evening of a holiday,” one said. “Anyway, we won’t have anything to report tomorrow.
Indeed, Bennett was to stay at his hotel on Tuesday before returning home that night. Israelis celebrate the feast of Simchat Torah a day before diaspora Jews, so none of Manhattan’s many synagogues would offer the applicable services the prime minister would need.
Some hoped Bennett would have taken the opportunity to visit a Conservative or Reform synagogue, in a gesture to the majority of American Jews who are not Orthodox.
But the prime minister was keen to recognize the strength of the pluralism of the American Jewish community during a speech to leaders of the Jewish federation earlier today.
“If there’s one thing I want to bring from American Jewish community to Israel, it’s the ability to listen, the ability not to put people in a box,” he said. “You are just a Jew here, and you are welcome. “