Hanukkah Comes Early to the Obama White House

— by David Streeter

President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama hosted the White House’s annual Chanukah party last night that was attended by many prominent Jewish leaders and activists. Vice President Joe Biden, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, several Jewish members of Congress, NJDC Chair Marc R. Stanley, NJDC President and CEO David A. Harris, and a number of other NJDC leaders were all among the event’s attendees. Before the party started, Obama remarked to the guests:

Welcome to the White House.  Thank you all for joining us tonight to celebrate Hanukkah-even if we’re doing it a little bit early.

I want to start by recognizing a few folks who are here. The ambassador to the United States from Israel, Michael Oren, is in the house.

We are honored to be joined by one of the justices of the Supreme Court, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is here. We are thrilled to see her. She’s one of my favorites … I’ve got a soft spot for Justice Ginsburg.

And we’ve got more than a few members of Congress here and members of my administration in the house, including our new Director of Jewish Outreach, Jarrod Bernstein is here….

I also want to thank the West Point Jewish Chapel Cadet Choir-the Voice of Tradition-for their wonderful performance, but more importantly, for their extraordinary service to our country.

And I want to thank all the rabbis and lay leaders who have come far and wide to be here with us today.

Now, as I said, we’re jumping the gun just a little bit. The way I see it, we’re just extending the holiday spirit. We’re stretching it out. But we do have to be careful that your kids don’t start thinking Hanukkah lasts 20 nights instead of eight. That will cause some problems.

This Hanukkah season we remember a story so powerful that we all know it by heart-even us Gentiles. It’s a story of right over might, of faith over doubt. Of a band of believers who rose up and freed their people and discovered that the oil left in their desecrated temple-which should have lasted only one night-ended up lasting eight.

More after the jump.

It’s a timeless story. And for 2,000 years, it has given hope to Jews everywhere who are struggling. And today, it reminds us that miracles come in all shapes and sizes. Because to most people, the miracle of Hanukkah would have looked like nothing more than a simple flame, but the believers in the temple knew it was something else. They knew it was something special.

This year, we have to recognize the miracles in our own lives. Let’s honor the sacrifices our ancestors made so that we might be here today. Let’s think about those who are spending this holiday far away from home-including members of our military who guard our freedom around the world. Let’s extend a hand to those who are in need, and allow the value of tikkun olam to guide our work this holiday season.

This is also a time to be grateful for our friendships, both with each other and between our nations. And that includes, of course, our unshakeable support and commitment to the security of the nation of Israel.

So while it is not yet Hanukkah, let’s give thanks for our blessings, for being together to celebrate this wonderful holiday season. And we never need an excuse for a good party….

So as I look around, I see a whole bunch of good friends. We can’t wait to give you a hug and a kiss and wish you a happy holiday. The guys with whiskers, I won’t give you a kiss.

Thank you very much, everybody.

Haaretz’s Natasha Mozgovaya noted that the party’s traditional kosher Chanukah foods were accompanied by “sushi rolls, caramelized pearl onions, shitake mushrooms, [and] pine nut herb crusted lamb chops.”

White House Pool Report by C. J. Ciaramella

The foyer was adorned in festive winter decorations. President Obama gave his remarks at a podium, next to a menorah with all eight candles lit.

Obama spoke for about four minutes to the group of approximately 550 guests, including many American Jewish community leaders, about the meaning of the Hannukah story.

“This Hannukah season, we remember a story so powerful that we know it by heart … even us gentiles,” Obama said. “A story of right over might, faith over doubt, a story about a band of believers who rose up and freed their people.”

President Obama said the Hannukah story is a reminder that “miracles come in all sizes,” and the holiday season is a time to “recognize the miracles in our own lives.”

“This is also time to be grateful for our friendships, both with each other and between our nations, and that of course includes our unshakable support and commitment to the security of the nation of Israel,” Obama said to applause.

After speaking, Obama left to meet with guests in the Map Room of the White House.

Notable guests included Israeli Ambassador to the United States Michael Oren, White House Director of Jewish Outreach Jarrod Bernstein and Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg, for whom President Obama said he had a “soft spot.”

Many members of Congress were also present, as was the West Point Jewish Chapel Cadet Choir.

Guests were treated to an all-kosher menu including dill and vodka Scottish smoked salmon and roulade of chicken breast. All food was prepared under the strict rabbinical supervision of Rabbi Levi Shemtov, Lubavitch Center of Washington (Chabad), in cooperation with the Rabbinical Council of Greater Washington.

The menorah for this year’s ceremony was lent by The Jewish Museum, New York and is dedicated to General Joseph T. McNarney, who served as the Commander in Chief of United States Forces in the European Theatre from November 1945 to March 1947.

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