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State of the Union attendees honor Holocaust and mass shooting survivor with “Happy Birthday”

Judah Samet turned 81 on Tuesday.

Jen Kirby is a senior foreign and national security reporter at Vox, where she covers global instability.

An impromptu “Happy Birthday” song might be one of the most memorable moments from President Donald Trump’s 2019 State of the Union address Tuesday night.

The president and first lady Melania Trump invited Judah Samet as a guest for the speech. Samet is a Holocaust survivor who also escaped the mass shooting at Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh in October 2018. Tuesday also happens to be Samet’s 81st birthday — and the House chamber broke out into song when Trump mentioned this during his speech.

The rumble of “Happy Birthday” on the House floor stood out as one of the few genuinely unifying — and moving — moments during Trump’s address. The president smiled and mimed a conductor’s baton while both Vice President Mike Pence and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi joined in the singing.

“They would not do that for me,” Trump quipped after the singing concluded.

The president introduced Samet after vowing to confront the “vile poison of anti-Semitism ... anywhere and everywhere it occurs.”

The president then honored two survivors of the Tree of Life Synagogue shooting, perpetrated by a gunman motivated by anti-Semitism. The first honoree was Timothy Matson, a SWAT officer and first responder who was shot seven times. The other was Samet.

“[Samet] arrived at the synagogue as the massacre began,” Trump said. “But not only did Judah narrowly escape death last fall — more than seven decades ago, he narrowly survived the Nazi concentration camps.”

Trump said Samet recalled being on a train, believing he and his family were bound for another concentration camp. “Suddenly the train screeched to a halt,” Trump said. “A soldier appeared. Judah’s family braced for the worst. Then his father cried out with joy, ‘It’s the Americans!’”

Lawmakers singing “Happy Birthday” in unison was, in a small way, a tribute to what Samet has overcome. As Samet told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review on Monday, Trump had “invited me, I was told, because I represented two of the biggest tragedies for the Jewish people in the last hundred years.”

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