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Jewish Heritage Week Marked at White House Ceremonies

Jewish Heritage Week was commemorated at the White House on Wednesday, marking a return of the observance to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

The annual week, sponsored by the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York, had not been marked with a white House ceremony since April 1985.

It was at that ceremony that then President Reagan was strongly criticized by Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel for planning to visit the Bitburg military cemetery in West Germany, where Nazi Waffen SS soldiers are buried.

Michael Miller, the JCRC’s executive director, refused to “fault anybody” over the absence of ceremonies the last three years.

He noted that the 1984 and 1985 events were planned by Marshall Breger, Reagan’s Jewish liaison, who resigned shortly after the Bitburg visit.

Breger attended the ceremony this year, as did State Department legal adviser Abraham Sofaer.

The ceremony featured speeches by James Billington, librarian of Congress, and Lynne Cheney, chairwoman of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

A prayer for President Bush’s health was delivered by Rabbi Abraham Shemtov national director of American Friends of Lubavitch.

Bush, who underwent a physical examination on Wednesday, “should receive a clean bill of health and God should grant him health and the ability to govern this country,” Shemtov prayed.

BUSH PRAISES JEWISH PEOPLE

For his part, in a proclamation mandated by Congress, Bush praised Jews for making “important contributions to every sphere of American life.”

May 7 through 14 was designated as Jewish Heritage Week in bills approved by Congress, sponsored by Sen. Alfonse D’Amato (R-N.Y.) and Rep. Benjamin Gilman (R-N.Y.).

The proclamation was presented by Bobbie Greene Kilberg, director of the White House’s public liaison office, to Martin Begun, a vice president of the New York JCRC, who is also dean of New York University Medical School.

Kilberg said Bush, at a White House meeting last week with U.S. Holocaust Memorial Council members, “talked about the extraordinary spirit and faith of the Jewish people.”

Meanwhile, at a Jewish Heritage Week ceremony at City Hall in New York on Monday, A.M. Rosenthal, columnist and former executive editor of The New York Times, and Bernard Charles, liaison on black affairs to Gov. Mario Cuomo, were honored for contributions to helping people “overcome differences.”

Charles chairs the Coalition to Celebrate our Differences, a New York group.

This year’s theme in New York commemorates the 25th anniversary of the enactment of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

The Sam Levenson Memorial Awards, presented by New York state Attorney General Robert Abrams, are awarded annually to a Jew and non-Jew by the JCRC, the New York City Board of Education and the Board of Jewish Education of New York.

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