Ms. Maven goes to Washington: My night at the White House Hannukkah party

Good morning, everybody. I am completely knackered and punchy because I went to the White House last night for a Hanukkah party with a dear friend and his family who were kind enough to invite me and we all got home on a rickety old Amtrak at about 2 am and went to sleep and then went to work. Allow me to paint you a picture and wax you a tail.

It goes without saying that poetically, no party for a bunch of Jewish people could be without suffering. Suffering lives deep within our loins. Eternal sunshine of the spotless mind we are not. 

So it was not surprising to me that after a day of primping and preening (Glam Squad a homerun- though makeup was better than the hair) and obsessing about how I would speak to the President and First lady the suffering started the moment I had kitten heels on the ground in front of 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.

First of all, what was at first a balmy day turned into a blustery evening. After a quick trip down on the Acela from New York, we could see the line forming around the White House and our stomachs dropped a little. The party was to begin at 6:30 and we queued up around 6:15 amongst our fellow Jews and their Gentile pals. As I surveyed the crowd through the steely darkness with the glow of the Washington Monument behind us, I began to quickly realize that this would not be the star-studded event I had hoped for.

There would be no Jessica and Jerry Seinfeld, no Howard Stern, no Barbra Streisand. Instead, there would be Mr. and Mrs. Schlumpenstein from Temple Emmanuel. In Peoria. Oy. And although I was honored to be going at all, I began to feel some buyer's remorse. 

Behind me was a contingent from what was surely Great Neck, hemming and hawing and cackling in a way that makes me very much wish I was born a Wasp. Listen, I adore my people, but a sense of restraint is one of many things we lack (in addition to many other things like good genes, slim hips, and natural blonde hair). As I stood there in my very restrained navy knee length dress and red lipstick, I realized that being a Jew, even when invited to the White House, is almost always about suffering. We wait, we freeze, we kvetch. It’s just our way. Here I was thinking I'd be hobnobbing with the Jewish elite and sharing latkes with Larry David, and here I was, waiting on a line that felt like Black Friday at the mall, freezing my toes off with a bunch of hungry Jews. Once in the shtetl...

And the suffering went on. And on. For well over an hour.  I kept picturing what were once my toes, and if hypothermia was setting in and if I would have to have my toes amputated at the White House. Oh the suffering. Apparently there was some sort of security issue, which does not surprise me considering it was a Hanukkah party at the President's house, but seriously, would it have killed them to bring out some hot cocoa or at least put us under a tent of some kind?  Or at least tell us why we were at a dead stop in the freezing cold? ALWAYS SUFFERING. AGAIN WITH THE SUFFERING.

Finally, we got to a heated tent full of White House interns whose combined age was 11.  Now before you think that the (supposedly) most modern and civilized country in the world would have some sort of high tech system to check people into the most important house in America, think again. I kid you not- they were literally reading names from sheets of paper. There was not even an iPad. Or scanner. Or anything of the like. No wonder the Salawis had no problem getting in. But couple the luddite guest list with the freezing cold Jews and you have a recipe for disaster. And then I found out my first name was misspelled on the list. And then, at 7:45, with 45 minutes left of the party, I got exiled to another tent as they took my ID and texted and called to some secret place to clear me yet again. MY NAME WAS SPELLED WRONG, PEOPLE. Could there be a more rookie gaff? 

So in the exile tent were me, an overly bubbly moonfaced Washington local who told me this was her second time in this holding cell, because they got her birthdate wrong last year too, and a woman who looked to be about 90, who came all the way from Chicago to meet the President. That one nearly broke me. Any thoughts of strangling the moonfaced girl in the fake Chanel left my body as I pictured this poor little old lady, anxiously awaiting her return home to regale all of her friends in B'nai Brith about the time she spun a dreidel with the President and First Lady. Can't we Jews catch a break? Can't we just?

At this point, my producer blood was boiling. I began adding up the expense of the day- the Acela tickets, the dress, the hair, the makeup. If I was going to miss this party, I was going to feel completely gutted.  But of course, a small part of me felt that this was fitting- because my self-deprecating Jewish nature was whispering in my ear that I had no real business being there in the first place. But seriously- there was no production value at this soiree. My producer friends out there- I see big opps for you down in DC. Seize that day.

And as my lovely friend waited for me outside the exiled tent, my name was called and I was allowed to go to yet another line and enter yet another tent, where a policewoman with a hugely made up smoky eye was noting very loudly that "there were too many long names to pronounce" and then proceeded to ask me how I pronounce my last name. Um. ROSENBERG. If you can't pronounce Rosenberg at a party full of Jews perhaps it would have been better to spend less time on that smoky eye and more time GETTING A CLUE. Unreal.

Finally, we made our way to our final line that led us into the house. Scarily enough, I could really no longer feel my feet. I was paranoid that I was walking on frozen sausages, and I had very little control of my gait. And in that last line, at 8 pm, we ran through the barricades like Rocky, the last Jews to enter the White House and completely miss Barack's speech and candle lighting. We missed the Jewish rabbi who was apparently Asian. We missed a lot of things, but here's what I didn't miss- the fact that Jews at a buffet table is a vulgar sight- we may as well have been at Josh's bar mitzvah in Boca Raton. Here we were, at the WHITE HOUSE, and all these lunatics could do is completely demolish the buffet table like it was the last supper. 600 cold and hungry Jews. Double Oy.

As I made my way to the latkes (sweet potato- only a Gentile would try to modern up one of the best classic dishes of Judaism), a zaftig woman bumped into me and caused me to spill some sort of white liquid all over the front of my pristine dress. At this point I was delirious, so exclaimed, "it's only food people. Relax". To which she then whispered to me with crusty lips, "that's what people do in New York". Um, what? 

"Well I happen to be from New York", I said, as I dabbed at my dress with a napkin, "and WE don't do that at all, particularly at the White House".  I then did my best attempt at a Kate Middleton eye roll, which caused my mascara to run.

That shut her up, but did not stop her from loading up her plate with brisket, pastrami salmon (not bad), and loads of sushi rolls. And then the band, a large group dressed as what appeared to be Nutcrackers, played an instrumental version of every song from The Jazz Singer. ˆNeedless to say, surreal. And then as the Jews continued to feast, a beautiful arrangement of "I Feel Pretty" played on, which I found ironic since the scene of a bunch of old Jews munching on lamb chops was anything but.

So after catching a glimpse of Michelle's head (hair pulled back tightly) and a glimmer of Barack leaving the room, my date and I decided to tour the House, which was epic. I was completely obsessed with Nancy Reagan's amazing portrait in a red gown, of Nancy climbing a ladder to top her Christmas tree, of Ronnie's big face. I saw Jackie's portrait which happens to be right by the ladies room (a surprising portrait because it feels a bit dark and less Jackie at Tiffany's), and a highlight for me was seeing Bo, the first dog's portrait, as he frolicked in the snow during Snowmaggedon, knowing very little what his owners were dealing with. Or those trying to enter the White House for that matter.

It was indeed lovely to see the White House in all of its festive holiday glory, but the party itself was squarely mediocre, full of fellow fiddler on the roof types who also come from families that cry whenever they hear "Sunrise, Sunset". I'm sure there were some mega donors in the house, but I couldn't help thinking- hasn't Obama pissed off the Jews enough lately? If he was looking to get back in their good graces, this may not have been the place.

As we exited the White House and ran to catch a non Acela (snails pace) iron horse back to New York, we were in step with an older couple leaving at the same time. His eyes were filled with tears as he said "who would ever think a little pisher like me would ever be at the White House?" I thought the same thought, but then thought I would rather be at a party not so firmly set in Moscow on the Potomac.  I bet this kind of crap does not go down at the Christmas party, and that's all I have to say about that. Oh, the pinot noir was delicious. Definitely not Manischewitz. Well done.

In terms of schwag, we got a lovely little children's book about the White House Winter Wonderland as well as a program of all the festivities we missed while we froze outside in the cold. I hear there was another party earlier in the day where they gave out yamulkes with the Presidential seal. That would have been a better get than some salty lox and some frostbite. And the cocktail napkins with the Presidential seal I put into my bag. I'm sure others took much more, namely sweet potato latkes for the long trek home and perhaps some pastrami salmon should the blood sugar dip with the temperature.

And as we boarded our very crowded train, we put my friend's parents into their seats and headed straight to the bar car. Over custom crafted vodka and sodas (custom made by pouring an airplane bottle of Finlandia into a glass with some soda), we had the most fascinating conversation of the night. With our Amtrak attendant. Who happened to be an extraordinarily smart middle class, working woman who schooled us on everything that is wrong with America and how we needed to get back on track.

I couldn't agree with her more. As a woman of the people, I found the party to be a great barometer for all of the things we need to do to make this country something we can believe in again. They can start with getting my name right.

And that's what's up this post game Thursday back in New York. Yours, in great expectations. XO

 For those of you needing some visuals, I've posted a few photos on Instagram...but none of me, because you know, it's me. I looked good, don't worry.