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Obama welcomes heritage festival

    For the first time since its inception four years ago, Jewish American Heritage Month has received a full-blown White House reception, hosted this week by US President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama.

    The event was due to feature some of the biggest names in US Jewry, from sports and literary icons to leading scholars and businessmen - not to mention Jewish members of Congress, major Democratic political players and key Obama fundraisers.

    Jewish communal leaders are welcoming heritage month's heightened profile and seeing it as confirmation of Jews' place in the American tapestry. "It's very nice that they're having an event like this," said leading Washington rabbi Jack Moline. "It's a recognition of the place that the Jewish community holds in the American imagination."

    But many US Jewish officials are also raising questions about the timing of the festival, coming as it does on the heels of serious tensions between the US and Israel and weeks of White House efforts to calm frayed nerves through high-profile speeches and private meetings with Jewish activists.

    "It's no secret that the White House has been reaching out to the Jewish community over the past month, and it is a happy coincidence for the White House that May is Jewish American Heritage Month," said Nathan Diament of the Orthodox Union's Washington office.

    Others have painted it as the Obama administration seizing on a feel-good occasion to try to score quick points with a constituency it has alienated.

    "The cynics will inevitably see it cynically," Mr Diament noted, "but not everyone has to be a cynic all the time."

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