For the first time ever, last week, a delegation of Russian-speaking Jews were exclusively invited to attend a meeting in the White House, accompanied by several leaders including Sheepshead Bay’s Leonard Petlakh, the executive director of the Kings Bay YM-YWHA
The precise nature and reason for the meeting, which took place on August 6, is largely unknown, for the meeting was held off the record. Participants were prohibited from disclosing details regarding its nature. The Jewish Week said that several participants stated that the meeting consisted of speeches given by four administration officials and conversations regarding each of their talks. The speeches addressed issues including national security, health care and the economy.
Participants heard from Deputy National Security Advisor Denis McDonough, Elizabeth Fowler, special assistant to the president for health care and economic policy, Danny Glaser, the Treasury Department’s assistant secretary for terrorist financing, and Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisors Alan Krueger, the Jewish Week noted.
Several officials and participants have questioned the White House’s motivations behind the meeting, yet nonetheless, they were glad that it actually happened.
“I think all of us pretty much had the same cynical response,” said Petlakh after receiving an invitation to this meeting, according to the Jewish Week. “Wow, this must be an election year if the administration is reaching out to the Russians, not exactly a natural constituency. But I was happy that someone there was interested in speaking to the Russian-Jewish community.
Jarrod Bernstein, the Director of Jewish Outreach at the White House and arranger of this meeting said it was not about electoral politics, but was triggered by an awareness that Russian Jews were never as involved in the policies of government as were other sects of the Jewish community. Bernstein said this meeting was held as part of an effort to change that.
Participant Roman Shmulenson and others told the Jewish Week that the reason for the meeting is not of priority, for “what’s important is that a dialogue is taking place.”