Hasidic handshakes at the White House

Hasidic handshakes at the White House

Through some inexplicable chain of events, my Hasidic husband and I, at the ripe age of twenty four or so, got onto the invite list of the George Bush White House Chanukah Party.

I was probably invited because I was different and Hasidic, but I wanted so terribly, badly to fit in. If you judge me for being such a peer-pressure prone weasel, you are right. But do keep in mind that looking different ALL the time and being seen as odd ALL the time can leave you feeling not only judged, but also misunderstood.

So I agonized over the fitting-in thing for months in advance. I am sure it is obvious to everyone immediately that my scarf in this picture is ivory (not white!) as I’d used a box of Walmart yellow die in the washroom sink to make the scarf less overtly a weekend scarf and more… subtle, blended in…


At some point of the night, as I was going around eating, looking totally normal with a soft yellow scarf and a black-bearded, Yiddish-accented, excessively-friendly husband at my side (or not; he kept disappearing as he found someone else to run chat up) we got called to “meet the president”. We stood in line with decidedly boring-looking secular Jews who seemed almost on the brink of very dull. I guess normal does something to you. I remember how silent all the dolled-up, pearl-wearing ladies were, so that my husband’s loud chatter and my own mortification were the central event in the waiting line.

There was a large soldier in very intimidating uniform at the door, and my husband provided him with detailed warning that for the photo, we are not to stand as is customary, the woman on the side of the president and he on the side of Laura. Some other man in military costume and those shoulder pads and a deep voice announced us, and then a hand shaking fiasco ensued that could have competed with the worst sex scenes on Girls.

I, trying to be cool and normal (do not judge me! I am a coward) held out a hand to W as did my husband, but then he went on to explain to Laura that he has his hands in the back of his long suit jacket while hers stands like an erect teenager because of this whole religious thing, etc, etc, etc. I smiled wide from ear to ear, chuckled nervously, tried to smooth things over by exclaiming with far too much enthusiasm how nice everything was and then stood like a good girl at the side of Laura for the picture.

Later, to do something about the many humiliations of being coupled with a husband who made such a scene every time a woman offered her hand, I wolfed down all the potato pancakes stacked on silver trays. It felt like eating sawdust-pancakes and it looked like they were printed at the Mint.

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