By Gil Hoffman, Jerusalem Post
US President Barack Obama’s chief of staff Rahm Emanuel announced with great fanfare at the General Assembly of the Jewish Federations of North America in Washington last year that he would come to Israel on America’s Memorial Day Weekend at the end of May to celebrate the bar mitzvas of his son Zach and a nephew.
“This memorial break, I am taking my son, my nephew Noah with Ari my brother, so they can have their bar mitzva in Israel,” Emanuel boasted in the November 10 speech, winning cheers from the crowd. “Not to add humor to this moment, but that’s cheap applause. I’ll take an $18 check on behalf of him if you like. That’s obviously illegal as a public servant. That was a joke.”
But as the bar mitzva date approaches, the White House, the Prime Minister’s Office and the Foreign Ministry have declined to give any details whatsoever about the event. A White House representative said Emanuel’s visit to Israel was “a private trip” and diplomatic officials in Jerusalem said they also didn’t provide details when National Security Council official Dennis Ross came for his son’s wedding.
The lack of information has led to speculation in the Hebrew press, with Haaretz reporting incorrectly that Emanuel would arrive in Israel this week and Ma’ariv suggesting that he had moved the bar mitzva away from the Western Wall, either because of threats from right-wingers or because the Obama administration considered the wall in the territory of a future Palestinian capital.
Neither Western Wall Rabbi Shmuel Rabinovitz nor Rabbi Jay Karzen, who has conducted more than 2,000 bar mitzvas at the site, was contacted by Emanuel’s family or his office.
“We would have known about it if they inquired about it, so I don’t think they canceled a bar mitzva at the Wall or planned one,” Rabinovitz’s spokesman said.
But an official close to the Emanuel family insisted that the bar mitzva would indeed take place at the Western Wall, while another family friend hinted it was scheduled for Saturday, May 29.
Rahm Emanuel’s father, the Jerusalem-born Benjamin M. Emanuel, reached at his home in the Chicago suburb of Wilmette, told The Jerusalem Post that he “cannot make any statement” about the bar mitzva.
Far-right activists Baruch Marzel and Itamar Ben-Gvir have tried everything possible to obtain information about the event so they could come and heckle a man they consider a traitor to Israel and the Jewish people. They compared him to UN Human Rights Council Gaza investigator Richard Goldstone, whom the Johannesburg Jewish community recently considered barring from attending his grandson’s bar mitzva.
“To our sorrow, you have worked against the State of Israel and the Jewish People,” Marzel and Ben-Gvir wrote Emanuel in January. “You are not the first Jew in history trying to advance himself at the expense of his people.
“There were traitors before you such as Josephus Flavius and others, who in all likelihood also celebrated their bar mitzva but we remember them as traitors, seeking riches and honor, at the expense of their people. Unlike the government of Israel, we will not bow and participate with all those seeking to hurt the Jewish People.”
Ben-Gvir said it would be a smart decision by the Emanuels to not have the bar mitzva at the Wall. He stressed that he had nothing against Zach, who attended Bernard Zell Anshe Emet Day School in Chicago before the move to Washington.
“For the People of Israel, the anger against Emanuel is significant,” Ben-Gvir said. “I think he is worse than Hamas. If the kid would come alone to the Wall without his father, we would be happy and we wouldn’t complain. But with all that Rahm Emanuel has done against the People of Israel and Land of Israel, we would have no choice but to demonstrate.”
Hilary Leila Krieger contributed to this report.