— by Bill Leopold
President Obama spoke about the messages of the story of the Maccabees in front of more than 500 people at a Hanukkah party, in a White House full of elaborate, tasteful holiday decorations and exquisitely prepared glatt kosher food:
In the face of overwhelming odds, they reclaimed their city and the right to worship as they chose. And in their victory, they found there wasn’t enough oil to keep the flame in their temple alive. But they lit the oil they had and, miraculously, the flame that was supposed to burn for just one night burned for eight. The Hanukkah story teaches us that our light can shine brighter than we could ever imagine with faith, and it’s up to us to provide that first spark.
Among the guests at the party were the chair of the Montgomery County Commissioners, Josh Shapiro, and his wife Lori. Mr. Shapiro said that it was a wonderful symbol of the U.S. democracy that the President presided over the Hanukkah party and spoke about our core values of freedom, peace, and equality.
The crowd cheered Obama’s news about Alan Gross, who had just been freed from Cuban prison as part of the country’s renewal of diplomatic relations with the U.S., and loved the President’s solid attempt to speak a few words in Hebrew. The U.S. Marine Chamber Orchestra provided the crowd with a tribute to Jewish-American Composers.
Obama introduced the makers of the menorah that was lit during the party, by relating the story of the decade-old Max Rayne Hand-in-Hand Arab-Jewish Bilingual School in Jerusalem, in which arsonists set fire to a classroom two weeks ago:
In the weeks that followed, they and their classmates could have succumbed to anger or cynicism, but instead they built this menorah… Each of its branches are dedicated to one of the values their school is founded on—values like community and dignity and equality and peace.
Two students from that school, Inbar Vardi and Mouran Ibrahim, and a parent, lit the candles. The president said that the students are teaching us that, “The light of hope must outlast the fire of hate.”