Stern College Dean Attends White House Dinner (Vol. 65, Issue 3)
Dr. Karen Bacon, Dean of Stern College for Women, had the distinct honor and privilege of representing Yeshiva University by attending a state dinner at the White House in honor of Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak. The affair, held on the evening of July 18, 1999, was attended by an impressive sampling of the elite among American Jewish leaders.
The dinner was attended by four hundred people, a fairly large list by state dinner standards. Dr. Bacon received a formal invitation from the White House after being informed of the event via a fax from the president's social secretary. Bacon still does not fully understand why she specifically was invited to attend. “I assume that I was chosen to represent Yeshiva University,” she said.
Welcomed by the President and First Lady, quests were shuttled from the reception line to the Far Lawn where an erected tent had been set up to accommodate the large audience. The lavish tent was equipped with air-conditioning to combat the muggy Washington summer, the tables were exquisitely adorned and crystal chandleries hung throughout the expanse.
Seated at a table with Hillary Clinton and Ehud Barak, Dr. Bacon and her son were surrounded by an impressive dinner company. Throughout the meal, the discussion ranged from the general and mundane to the technicalities of the peace process. “People tend to forget,” commented Bacon, “that these are real people.”
The dinner menu consisted of dairy selections, presumably because the evening fell within the nine days that precede Tisha B’Av when it is customary for observant Jews to refrain from eating meat. Special certified kosher meals were offered and Bacon recalls, “I do not believe there was a single table that did not have a number of kosher meals.”
Although the evening served as a dinner affair to honor Barak, the event was not bereft of ensuing politics. Throughout the evening, Mr. Barak seemed pragmatic and optimistic about the peace process and his new position as prime minister.
Barak delivered a passionate speech in which he mentioned his experiences as a soldier, and in graphic detail delineated his strong capabilities as a military leader while expressing his hope that such action will never have to be taken. As for his plans for the new peace, Barak said he felt that with truly open dialogue Israel can one day be free of all violence and terrorism.
Dr. Bacon felt the American government made a lasting impression on the Prime Minister. “The general feeling of the dinner was not that of leader to leader but of friend to friend! The overwhelming sense of comradery could be felt throughout the evening.”
The Clinton administration extended its warmest welcome to the new Prime Minister. The dinner was part of an expanded weekend that would include meetings with high-level government officials and two days at Camp David with the First Family.
With regard to the evening, Bacon commented, “It was simply extraordinary. I had the sense that the White House was trying very hard to convey a message of support to the Prime Minister and his family.”