Tree of Life congregant Judah Samet enjoys ‘feel good’ moment at State of the Union
The night before Judah Samet sat in the House of Representatives’ gallery as President Donald Trump’s guest for his State of the Union address, he wasn’t sure the president would mention him.
Not only did the president mention Samet on Tuesday night, he also wished him a happy 81st birthday. That inspired members of Congress gathered on the House floor to sing an impromptu rendition of “Happy Birthday to You” to the Holocaust survivor and Tree of Life congregant.
“All of a sudden I hear ‘Judah Samet.’ So I stood up and he (Trump) was saying a few things, and all of a sudden they start to sing ‘Happy Birthday’ to me — not just the House but the gallery on top,” he said. “I didn’t expect it. I think it came from the senatorial side, but then everybody joined in.”
The significance of the unprecedented moment was not lost on those surrounding him. According to Samet, Deputy Assistant to the President Stephen Munisteri said, “Judah, you made history. There was never, ever singing in the House.”
“That kind of touched me a little bit. It made me feel good,” said Samet, seated in his Oakland residence after returning from his whirlwind trip to the U.S. Capitol. “I was thinking of Pittsburgh when I was there and I wanted to give some credit to our small town, because the rest of the country doesn’t think much of us besides the Steelers. They don’t know that this is a beautiful city.
“And I also wanted to bring some honor to the Jewish community.”
Since his appearance during the nationally televised address, Samet seems to have achieved a kind of celebrity status.
“On the airplane, the pilot came out, gave me a kiss and took a picture of me,” he said. “A state trooper at the airport said, ‘Congratulations, that was the moment for me!’”
Earlier in the day Tuesday, Samet had an Oval Office meeting with the president.
“I said, ‘Mr. President, I have a prayer that’s reserved only for you (the leader) in Judaism.’ So, I recited the prayer. He turned around and shook my hand twice and he thanked me.”
In the months following the October massacre at the Tree of Life synagogue, in which 11 people were killed by a gunman while worshipping, a community that is hurting has sought healing.
Samet says his appearance at the State of the Union address appears to have helped in that effort.
“From the telephone calls that I’m getting just to thank me and congratulate me, I think regular people, especially Jews, it helps them a great deal. And that was my intent.
“When the president mentioned the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, that means a lot. I guarantee you every Pittsburgher who heard it had a moment of pride.”
For Judah Samet, it was a long way from his childhood, struggling with his mother to survive the starvation and horrors of the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. Samet said that he thought of her as he stood in the House gallery listening to President Trump.
“I thought of her, I thought of my synagogue, and I thought of Pittsburgh.”
Paul Guggenheimer is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Paul at 724-226-7706 or by email at [email protected]
Paul Guggenheimer is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Paul at 724-226-7706 or [email protected].