Conflicting media reports this past week over an alleged chase by Orthodox Jews in Lakewood of Governor Mitt Romney’s motorcade left many wondering just what had actually happened.
The hubbub centered on the presumed Republican presidential nominee’s appearance at a fundraising dinner at the Lake Terrace catering hall on Wednesday afternoon in the heavily Orthodox community, which is home to America’s largest yeshiva, Beth Medrash Govoha.
initial, widely-reported story claimed that as the fleet of cars in Romney’s motorcade was approaching the hall, it drove past a group of Orthodox Jews posing for photographs in the parking lot prior to the wedding of a young Sephardic couple, whom sources identified as Eli Ben-Haim and Zahava Elkaim. The wedding was supposedly scheduled to take place at Lake Terrace right after the fundraising event. In this version of the alleged incident, when members of the wedding party spotted the motorcade and realized the identity of its chief occupant, they left the surprised bride and groom and began to run after the vehicles with their cameras in tow, hoping to snap photos of Romney.
The report went on to claim that, when the former Massachusetts governor’s SUV drove toward a rear entrance of Lake Terrace, approximately ten Orthodox Jews ran up to the car. After trying to circumvent a wooden fence, they were blocked by impassive Secret Service agents. “Oh, you’re Secret Service,” one woman responded to an agent who had asked her to move back. “We just want to see Romney.”
The report concluded by stating that according to Rick Gorka, a spokesman for Romney, the “special guest” in Lakewood agreed to take several minutes out of his busy schedule and pose for photos with the wedding party.
After this version of Romney’s encounter with Orthodox Lakewood residents was publicized in several major media outlets, a scathing counter-story was published by the Jackson Family Magazine, a local New Jersey publication. Insisting that the media had gotten the story wrong, writer Phil Stilton – who says he was the only journalist actually on the premises – explained that a small group of supporters from the community was waiting at Lake Terrace’s front entrance, where authorities had told them to remain so they could greet the candidate.
“When the motorcade sped past,” Stilton writes, “it was this group, and not a wedding party, that ran around the corner to get a glimpse of a man some in the group told me they admired. The wedding party, which had been taking some pictures in front of the establishment, did not chase Romney.” Stilton further asserts he had also conversed with two bridesmaids a few minutes earlier, and they informed him that the wedding had actually been planned to take place before the fundraiser.
“A lot happened” outside the catering hall, the journalist concludes in his article. “Local media was blocked, protesters were hidden from view of the pool photographers, it was a Jewish wedding, but nobody from the wedding party chased Romney.”
Stilton’s account was confirmed by an updated report on the Huffington Post, which revealed that the groom’s mother had spoken with Holly Bailey of Yahoo. “Mrs. Ben-Haim confirmed that Romney did indeed stop by and pose for pictures with the (wedding) group after he made his remarks at the fundraiser,” Bailey said. “ ‘He came in and really gave all of his attention to my son and my now-daughter-in-law.’ “ The groom’s mother further stated that the group was allowed to take numerous pictures, as well as video, of Romney. “He was very gracious,” Mrs. Ben-Haim enthused. “And we were all telling him we were happy that he came to our wedding because we are all very strong, staunch supporters of his.”
In both versions of the situation, Governor Romney addressed the fundraiser, which featured strictly kosher food from Greenwald Caterers and netted his campaign $1.5 million. The well-heeled guests at the dinner included such notables as New York Jets owner Woody Johnson, who presumably were not invited to the wedding.