Bush Cuts Short Mideast Trip to Host White House Hanukkah Party

Bush tells crowd of Jewish leaders that holiday recalls freedom and 'miraculous victory over tyranny.'

Outgoing U.S. President George W. Bush on Monday hosted a Hanukkah ceremony at the White House for Jewish leaders, shortly after returning from his farewell trip to Iraq and Afghanistan.

Alongside the seasonal Christmas trees, the ceremony featured a historic Hannukiah that had been given to former president Harry Truman by Israel's first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion. The two statesmen's grandsons, Clifton Truman Daniel and Yariv Ben-Eliezer, were chosen to light the candles.

The president told the crowd that he had cut short his trip to attend the ceremony.

"I met with [Afghan] President Karzai, who is determined to help the young democracy survive," Bush said. "And so he said, why don't you hang around for a while? And I said, well, you don't understand. I need to get back to the White House for an important event. The Hanukkah reception is always one of the most special events of the season. Laura and I are pleased to be with so many friends. And we are honored to gather with leaders of the Jewish community to celebrate our final Hanukkah here in the White House."

Guests at the ceremony included Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. Sallai Meridor, Senator Joe Lieberman and his wife Hadassah, the Republican Congressman Eric Cantor, and business mogul Sheldon Adelson and his wife.

"The story of Hanukkah recalls the miraculous victory of a small band of patriots against tyranny, and the oil that burned for eight nights," Bush continued. "Through centuries of exile and persecution, Jews have lit the menorah. Each year, they behold its glow with faith in the power of God, and love for His greatest gift - freedom."

"This Hanukkah we celebrate another miraculous victory - the 60th anniversary of the founding of the state of Israel. When President Harry Truman led the world in recognizing Israel in May of 1948, many wondered whether the small nation could possibly survive. Yet from the first days of independence, the people of Israel defied dire predictions. With determination and hard work, they turned a rocky desert into fertile soil. They built a thriving democracy, a strong economy, and one of the mightiest military forces on earth. Like the Maccabees, Israel has defended itself bravely against enemies seeking its destruction. And today, Israel is a light unto the nations - and one of America's closest friends," he concluded.