Shortly after dawn on May 22, 2013, Kestenbaum & Company chairman, Mr. Daniel Kestenbaum along with his family set out for Washington DC. Meanwhile, other Kestenbaum & Company employees throughout the tri-state area greeted the dawn and they too pointed their cars toward the Nation’s Capitol. The reason for the trip to Washington was in order to attend a luncheon held in the U.S. Capitol building in celebration of Jewish American Heritage Month, 2013. Jewish American Heritage Month (JAHM) is an annual recognition and celebration of Jewish American achievements in, and contributions to, the United States of America. JAHM was set into law by President George W. Bush in 2006 at the instigation of Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida and the late Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, as well as the Jewish Museum of Florida.
This year’s event, hosted by the Friedlander Group, was organized to honor a select group of deserving recipients who have made significant contributions to American society. Among the honorees was Daniel E. Kestenbaum who was hailed for his work in seeking to preserve historic Jewish material culture and publicizing such via his company’s auctions. After a private tour of the impressive Capitol building and a rare photo-op atop the Speaker’s Balcony overlooking the National Mall and the Washington Monument, the honorees and their guests headed to the historic Lyndon Baines Johnson Room where the luncheon was held. Senate Majority Leader Lyndon B. Johnson moved his leadership office to this room in 1959, maintaining it when he became vice president in 1961 and remained there until he ascended to the presidency in 1963. For this event, the LBJ Room was arrayed with tables elegantly set with fine kosher cuisine.
Many Washington Senators and other Congress-people, along with pillars of the American Jewish Community, heralded the honorees and shared their thoughts about the impact of the day’s event. Greg Rosenbaum, co-Chair of the Jewish American Heritage Month Foundation introduced Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio who in turn presented honoree Daniel E. Kestenbaum, founding director of Kestenbaum & Company, with his award. Mr. Kestenbaum graciously accepted the honor with a poignant speech reflecting on the importance of learning from history and seeking to contribute to society, “As Jews, our rise up the ladder of history must be in order to improve not only the lives of our own community, but also the communities of those who have not as yet been able to achieve as we have. I believe that the extraordinary broad-spectrum achievements of the American Jewish community of today will continue to gain strength and success only if they are in turn reflected in the communities that make up American as a whole.”
Mr. Kestenbaum added an impacting narrative tying the Jewish past to the present day and included two particular historic anecdotes: He noted that early that morning he had recited his morning prayers utilizing a miniature Hebrew prayer book that had been printed in 1860 in Furth, Germany. As stated on its title page, the volume was specifically produced to aid migrant Jews making the long journey from Europe to America, attesting to the keen optimism belonging to 19th century Jewish immigrants to the United States. A second anecdote referred to by Mr. Kestenbaum was the Rabbis March on Washington DC, held on October 6, 1943 and led by such brilliant rabbinic leaders as Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, Rabbi Eliezer Silver, the Boyaner Rebbe and Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik (all of blessed memory). This eminent group sought to impress upon the American corridors of power the urgency to do more to rescue the Jews of Europe who were being wantonly annihilated by the German Nazis and their henchmen. After a day of speech-making, the rabbis traveled back to their homes that evening with the sacred and solemn day of Yom Kippur Eve due to begin come the morn, unfortunately with pitifully little to show for their efforts in Washington.
Kestenbaum compared these two anecdotes, one of the 19th-century and one of the 20th-century, with that of the present moment - celebrating American-Jewish achievement within the Capital itself, surrounded by elected officials, honoring their fellow Americans, all equally committed to the common good.
Dignitaries who addressed the honorees and guests included Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, Senator Brian Schatz of Hawaii, Senator Al Franken of Minnesota, Senator Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire, Senator Bob Casey, Jr. of Pennsylvania and Congressman Joe Kennedy of Massachusetts who noted that the honorees “epitomize the value of the Jewish community and American experience.” Congresswoman Wasserman Schultz highlighted the importance of educating Members of Congress and all Americans about the impact Jews have had throughout American History. Rabbi Levi Shemtov, Executive Vice President of the America Friends of Lubavitch, thanked the Friedlander Group, under the stewardship of Ezra Friedlander, CEO for organizing the Tribute event.
The other honorees were Harvey and Gloria Kaylie, stalwart supporters of OHEL, Rabbi Dr. Elie Abadie of The Safra Synagogue, Simcha Eichenstein, advisor to the New York State Comptroller and the Rothenberg Law Firm.