Babka, body doubles and Fetterman among surprises at Shaare Torah’s annual dinner
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Babka, body doubles and Fetterman among surprises at Shaare Torah’s annual dinner

Sunday evening event delivers 'embarrassment of riches'

Lauren Noorparvar, Elan Noorparvar, Sen. John Fetterman and Rabbi Yitzi Genack on March 31. (Photo courtesy of Shaare Torah Congregation)
Lauren Noorparvar, Elan Noorparvar, Sen. John Fetterman and Rabbi Yitzi Genack on March 31. (Photo courtesy of Shaare Torah Congregation)

Plates of chicken and tiresome speeches are familiar features of synagogue dinners — visits from U.S. senators are not.

For an organization that regularly bills its annual event as “Not-Your-Average Shul Dinner,” however, Sen. John Fetterman’s attendance was one of several surprises at Shaare Torah Congregation’s March 31 affair.

The event, which honored Lauren and Elan Noorparvar, received an added boost days earlier, as hours before Shabbat on March 29, Shaare Torah’s Rabbi Yitzi Genack announced the congregation was presenting Fetterman with its Lion of Israel Award.

This honor recognizes the senator’s “determined and courageous support of the state of Israel,” Genack said. “He has consistently advocated for policies and initiatives that promote Israel’s safety and well-being. He stood with us as many of us gathered on the National Mall in Washington, and I was fortified by the image of his towering figure draped with an Israeli flag.”

On Sunday evening, with approximately 180 people present, Fetterman accepted the award but deflected praise for championing the Jewish state.

“With so much going on right now, I’m a very, very, small part of it,” he told the Chronicle.

For many, Fetterman’s actions since Oct. 7 belie that statement: His comments, social media posts and behavior have garnered praise, scorn and considerable attention.

Immediately following Hamas’ invasion of Israel and abduction of 253 hostages, the senator placed a photograph of each captive on the wall of his Capitol Hill office.

“We put them all up there. They’ve all been documented. The ones that were brought home, or the ones that were lost or murdered by Hamas, were shifted on the other wall. And they’re all going to be up there and monitored until everyone is brought back home,” Fetterman said. “We have to bring them all home.”

Sen. John Fetterman speaks during the Shaare Torah Congregation annual dinner on March 31 (Photo courtesy of Shaare Torah Congregation)

For the past six months, family members of hostages have traveled to Washington and spoken with the elected official.

Fetterman said he’s met with eight groups to date.

Keeping the hostages “front and center” is imperative, he said: “The first thing out of anyone’s mouth should have been like, well, let’s send them home.”

But as the Israel-Hamas war continued, the hostages’ plight was tied to armed action and political rhetoric.

Last week, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told families of about 20 people kidnapped by Hamas that returning the hostages is achievable only through “the continuation of the powerful military pressure,” Haaretz reported.

Fetterman said that just as he’s committed to seeing the hostages come home, the U.S. is devoted to minimizing destruction in Gaza.

“You can never forget that Hamas was behind all of this tragedy,” he said. “They own this whole tragedy and all of the death and the destruction. Where it’s at is because of the choices Hamas has made. They are holding innocent citizens — children, babies, women, elderly — we can’t forget. And that’s why it’s always been very front center with me. And that’s where it’s going to remain.”

Fetterman’s support of Israel and stance on the war has rankled some fellow Democrats and some pro-Palestinian activists.

On March 13, the No Dem Left Behind PAC tweeted, “We deeply regret supporting Senator John Fetterman he betrayed all of us.”

In January, protesters gathered outside the senator’s Braddock residence and shouted, “Fetterman, Fetterman, you can’t hide. You’re supporting genocide.”

Fetterman responded by silently waving an Israeli flag from his rooftop.

The senator told the Chronicle he welcomes disagreement on the war, “but it’s  undeniable that Israel doesn’t go after and target civilians — Hamas does. It’s very clear that Hamas has weaponized and sexually assaulted and raped, and all of the things that they’ve done. And now they are hiding behind civilians — whether it’s in hospitals, whether it’s in schools, and everything — and they’re just cowards. Now they are trying to create a situation. And I think it’s important that we stand and hold with Israel.”

Sen. John Fetterman and David Knoll enjoy a laugh on March 31. (Photo courtesy of Shaare Torah Congregation)

Squirrel Hill resident and Shaare Torah member Michael Milch has visited Fetterman on Capitol Hill five times since Oct. 7.

“After each trip, I inevitably get asked why the senator is such a friend of ours and the state of Israel,” Milch said. “My answer has remained as consistent as the senator’s position on this conflict. I met the senator many years ago, and this is a family man — of integrity, compassion and justice. Sen. Fetterman is honest and unafraid to share the truth, even in the face of adversity.”

After the Biden administration authorized transferring weapons and jets to Israel totaling billions of dollars, a March 30 headline in The Washington Post read, “Accusations of hypocrisy follow U.S. arms transfer to Israel.”

Fetterman wrote on X (formerly Twitter): “No conditions. Zero hypocrisy. Stand with Israel.”

“I’m just going to be on what I believe is the right side, and that’s how it’s going to continue,” Fetterman told the Chronicle.

Throughout the evening, the senator posed for photographs with honorees and attendees. A large cardboard cut-out resembling Fetterman was placed on Shaare Torah’s stage.

In a humorous nod to conspiracy theorists who claim that Fetterman has been replaced by someone of his likeness, the politician acknowledged the life-size image and said, “That body double is an AI. I mean it really is. You don’t know how hard it was to find a six-foot-eight guy, bald and had a stroke.”

Shortly before leaving the event, Fetterman was asked why he decided to attend a shul dinner on Easter weekend.

“I showed up tonight to acknowledge the trauma to the community, and to let them know that this is a voice that you can always count on in D.C.,” he said. “And I don’t care what polls or what other people are saying.”

As he headed toward the synagogue’s Murray Avenue exit, Fetterman was stopped by Shaare Torah member Etti Martel.

The Israeli-born Squirrel Hill resident handed the senator a freshly baked chocolate babka.

Fetterman called the unexpected gift “an embarrassment of riches.”

“Some of my colleagues love envelopes of cash or gold bars in their mattresses,” he said. “Baked goods — my family tore the last one apart.” PJC

Adam Reinherz can be reached at

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