He’s just another White House Senior Correspondent.
But as a White House Senior Correspondent who’s also visibly and unabashedly Orthodox, garb and all, Avraham Yaakov “Turx” Turkeltaub is hard to miss.
Turx is hardly the first yarmulke in the Oval Office.
Young Ezra Troy, then 5, son of George W. Bush top aide and Orthodox Jew Tevi Troy, was famously photographed on an Oval Office couch—headgear, side locks and all—while the sitting president and Troy Senior conferred. And history reports that yarmulke-clad rabbis have actually been visiting U.S. presidents for at least 150 years.
Still, despite being a professionallytrained and credentialed journalist by trade, the young and folksy reporter hasn’t forgotten his community roots.
And that’s where a phone call from Washington to Monsey comes in.
Making the call
Turx gained first-hand familiarity with Hamaspik in December of 2018, when he entertainingly served as Master of Ceremonies at the agency’s annual staff appreciation event. He asked guests to be seated as he did stand-up. And as much as guests got from him, Turx got from them—more specifically, from the mission they represent.
Turx came away with friendship and respect for Hamaspik and all it does—a fact evident in his later ready willingness to meet with Hamaspik upon their visiting his professional turf.
It was recently when a group of young men with Hamaspik of Orange County and their staff were gearing up for a threeday trip to the nation’s capital. It was in the thick of the government shutdown (which would actually end days later) and as such, the Hamaspik contingent’s planned visit to the White House was off until further notice.
It was thus that a New York State Hamaspik Association (NYSHA) staffer with a professional relationship with Turx sent the intrepid reporter a message: What’s your boots-on-the-ground view right now about the possibility of a Hamaspik group of young men with disabilities visiting the White House next week?
A terse response bounced back at 7:42 p.m.: “Shutdown. No chance. Apologies.”
One week later, that “Hamaspik group of young men” was on the ground in Washington. Hamaspik Direct Support Professional (DSP) Moshe Hersh Berkowitz knew of NYSHA’s Turx connection. He placed a critical call to New York from the road.
Within minutes, the NYSHA employee texted Turx again: “Hey, My Hamaspik chevra [Yiddish slang roughly translating to “guys” or “gang”] visiting DC today want to contact you. May I provide your cell #’s, please?”
The response came back just over two hours later. “Sure. I should be getting off work around 4ish”
“Ok, thank you. Passing this number on,” NYSHA replied.
And that’s how a group of Chasidic young men with disabilities from upstate Kiryas Joel, New York found themselves later that very day farbrenging [Yiddish for meeting together] with Turx himself at a kosher D.C. café—but not before personally meeting and greeting the celebrity reporter outside the gates of the White House.
Hamaspik in the Oval Office
It was perhaps a Freudian slip—of the best kind—that Turx mentioned Hamaspik in conversation this past February 6 with one Donald J. Trump, President of the United States of America.
The White House had invited a small group of regional-based reporters— numbering some 12 journalists, including Washington bureau chief Jerry Zremski of the Buffalo News and Turx—to an informal off-the-record presidential pow-wow in the Oval Office. (That gettogether later went largely on the record.)
Here’s how Turx later described it in his regular White House report:
At another point, criminal justice reform came up.
“Do you like it? Do you like First Step?” the president asked me casually.
“I can only tell you what I hear from people,” I replied, adapting his own vernacular.
“Go ahead, tell me,” he pressed.
“Last week there was a group [on tour] at the White House of Jewish special needs adults from an organization called Hamaspik. I met with them afterwards, and as a joke I asked them, ‘If I bump into the president what message would you want me to give over?’
“Most of them expressed their appreciation for what the president had done in regards to criminal justice reform. So I asked if any of them had any friends or relatives who had been personally impacted by this, to which they said no, but they really appreciated that the president is giving people a second chance.”
The president thanked me for the message, adding that criminal justice reform has “been very popular, actually.”
The following week, it wasn’t a joke.
With the unlikely but staunch admiration of a bona fide White House reporter, Hamaspik became the fulcrum of community opinion in a chat with America’s Chief Executive.