Two local leaders were among 10 rabbis from Chabad Lubavitch welcomed into the White House Oval Office on March 27 by President Donald Trump, who proclaimed it National Education and Sharing Day.
The day marked the 40th anniversary of the first such proclamation, made by then President Jimmy Carter. The date is the birthday of the former leader of Chabad, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, who died in 1994.
Rabbi Moshe Herson of the Rabbinical College of America in Morristown has gone to the White House to mark the occasion every year since President Ronald Reagan was in office. For Rabbi Zalman Grossbaum of the Friendship Circle of New Jersey in Livingston, the 2018 event marked his first trip to the White House.
“It was a pleasant, brief meeting,” said Herson. “We were warmly received, and we had brief conversations on issues related to the Jewish community.” He added that he was not at liberty to discuss the content of the conversations. Calling the meeting “a special occasion,” he added, “That the president is giving attention and signing a proclamation in honor of the Rebbe and his efforts at chinuch [Jewish education] and general education … is something very important.”
Herson recalled that during the years when Schneerson was alive, the rabbis would travel directly from the White House to Chabad Lubavitch headquarters in Brooklyn to report on the meeting. One year, Hershon said, he was standing outside the Rebbe’s door with a colleague when Schneerson opened the door and inquired, “Did you see only the president or the angel that accompanies him as well?” Herson explained that according to lore, every government representative has an angel accompanying him or her. Herson admitted he has yet to see the angel.
These days, the group still heads directly to Brooklyn, but their destination is the Rebbe’s ohel — literally “tent,” but in this case referring to the place Schneerson is buried — where they read a report on the White House meeting.
Grossbaum did not respond to requests for comment.