A crowd of some 200 women turned out for the Main Event, the annual Women’s Philanthropy fund-raiser for the Jewish Federation of Greater Middlesex County — their enthusiasm undampened by the purposely low-key nature of the evening.
The May 13 gathering at the Highland Park Conservative Temple-Congregation Anshe Emeth included a buffet dinner and a talk by New York Times reporter Jodi Kantor, who spoke on the domestic life of President Barack and Michelle Obama.
In deference to the economy, the dinner was more modest than in recent years, and the gift bag for guests consisted of a small brown shopping bag containing only a few items. Recipients were instructed to return the bag filled with donations to the kosher food pantry run by the Jewish Family and Vocational Service of Middlesex County.
A new employee at that agency, Michele Bernstein of East Brunswick, said she now has an up-close look at its service to the community. She said she has just begun working for JFVS, one of the many federation beneficiaries, and sees “the wonderful things they do.”
Stacey Lampert of East Brunswick said she came to the dinner to get “connected to the women” who support the federation and its endeavors for Jews locally and around the world. This year’s attendance, according to organizers, was nearly double the number of 110 women who were at last year’s event.
Kantor, a Brooklyn resident, spoke warmly about the federation, pointing out that her mother was a lay leader of the Jewish Federation of Monmouth County during her childhood in Holmdel.
“This whole scene is very familiar to me,” she said.
The author, currently on leave from the paper while she writes a book on the Obamas, covered the couple on the campaign trail. She became fascinated by their struggle to maintain a sense of normalcy in their marriage and family.
“Mrs. Obama plays the traditional mom role,” said Kantor of the Harvard Law-educated First Lady. “She keeps track of the dance recitals.”
However, the president’s time with daughters Sasha and Malia is “pretty sacred.” Kantor said he often does not leave the White House residence until after 9:30 a.m. she he can spend some early-morning time with the girls and makes it a point to have dinner most nights with the family.
The heavily staffed White House has left the Obamas “having to push back” at times, according to Kantor. At one point, during a trip to Europe by the First Couple, the daughters could not immediately be located in the vast expanses of the White House when their parents called. A chagrined staff gave the girls cell phones so they could always be found, but Michelle Obama later took them away.
“Mrs. Obama told them they were too young to have cell phones,” said Kantor.
The Obamas had a wide circle of Jewish friends in their Hyde Park neighborhood in Chicago, Kantor said, and their daughters attended a JCC camp.
“I don’t think the Bush twins ever went to a JCC camp,” said Kantor.