Etra, 60, a high-powered Los Angeles criminal defense lawyer, has known Bush since the two men were friends at Yale University. Members of the class of 1968, the two pals joined Skull and Bones, the prestigious secret society. The future president even traveled once to Manhattan’s Upper East Side from New Haven, Conn., to share a Sabbath meal with Etra’s family.
They have maintained the friendship ever since. Last month, Etra was one of 79 members of the president’s delegation to Israel in honor of the Jewish state’s 60th anniversary. In 2003, the president sent him to Poland to represent America at the 60th anniversary commemoration of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. This past spring, Bush reappointed Etra to his second five-year term on the United States Holocaust Memorial Council.
What is particularly striking about Etra’s long friendship with Bush, and his reputation as one of the president’s closest Jewish associates, is the rather less publicized fact that Etra is, by his own description, a liberal Democrat.
…Several decades ago, during the Reagan administration, the future president was in L.A. for Etra’s wedding and attended the oyfruf, the Jewish ritual in which a groom-to-be is called up to the Torah on the Sabbath before his wedding. At the time, the elder George Bush was vice president, and Etra recounted how impressed the younger Bush was with the fact that the Orthodox congregation said a prayer for the president and the vice president on a weekly basis.
At Purim time two years ago, Etra had an opportunity to explain to the president the meaning of the feast of Esther. Etra was staying overnight at the White House the day after the celebration, and one of the president’s daughters asked whether he’d observed the holiday. When Bush asked for an explanation of Purim’s significance, Etra summed it up succinctly. “I said it was about a crazy guy in Iran who wanted to kill all the Jews,” Etra said. “And the president remarked that not much has changed.”
"Luke Ford reports all of the 'juicy' quotes, and has been doing it for years." (Marc B. Shapiro)
"This guy knows all the gossip, the ins and outs, the lashon hara of the Orthodox world. He’s an [expert] in... all the inner workings of the Orthodox world." (Rabbi Aaron Rakeffet-Rothkoff)
"This generation's Hillel." (Nathan Cofnas)