Obama Celebrates Hanukkah at White House

Some 600 Jewish community leaders took a break for a traditional Hanukkah reception at the White House.

Several reporters braved the evening chill Thursday evening in front of the West Wing, hoping that Speaker of the House John Boehner would make some announcement regarding his meeting with President Barack Obama at the White House. The meeting entailed yet another effort to thwart the danger of the fiscal cliff - automatic budget cuts that will kick off January 1st, if the compromise between the parties is not reached.

The Jewish community, like any other community in the U.S., has a serious stake in these talks - but despite the deep concerns, Thursday night President Obama and about 600 Jewish community leaders took a break for a traditional Hanukkah reception at the White House. As usual, the kosher food was prepared under the strict supervision of Rabbi Levi Shemtov, Lubavitch envoy to Washington, in cooperation with the Rabbinical Council of Greater Washington. The event was attended by members of Cabinet, Congress, two Supreme Court Justices, and other Jewish community leaders.

The President entered the East Room with the First Lady, greeted the guests, then got straight to business, announcing: "Obviously I know I speak for all of us when we say that America's support for our friend and ally Israel remains unshakeable during these difficult times. "

"Over 2,000 years ago, a tyrant forbade the Israelites from practicing their religion and his forces desecrated the Holy Temple. So Judah Maccabee gathered a small band of believers to fight this oppression, and against all odds, they prevailed. And the Maccabees liberated Jerusalem and restored the faith of its people. And when they went to reclaim the Temple, the people of Jerusalem received another gift from God - the oil that should have lasted only one night burned for eight. That miraculous flame brought hope and it sustained the faithful. To this day, Jews around the world honor the Maccabees' everlasting hope that light will overcome the darkness, that goodness will overcome evil, and that faith can accomplish miracles," said Obama, as he went on to tell the story of the symbolic Menorah that was chosen to light the room - it was borrowed from the Temple Israel congregation of Long Beach (the first synagogue in Long Beach, New York, founded on August 31, 1924).

"Six weeks ago, the Temple Israel Synagogue in Long Beach, New York, was badly damaged by Hurricane Sandy. But this 90-year-old menorah survived, and I am willing to bet it will survive another 90 years, and another 90 years after that. So tonight, it shines as a symbol of perseverance, and as a reminder of those who are still recovering from Sandy’s destruction - a reminder of resilience and hope and the fact that we will be there for them as they recover. "

Rabbi Laurence Bazer, a chaplain with the Massachusetts National Guard, lit the Menorah. Obama said that he had expected Rabbi Bazer to light the menorah the previous year - but he was deployed to Afghanistan. "As the only rabbi in Afghanistan at the time, he spent every night of Hanukkah with a different group of soldiers, reminding them of the Maccabees’ perseverance, and bringing them faith to guide their challenging work," The American President said. "Even in the face of great danger, the message of Hanukkah endures. And it continues to inspire those all over the world who stand for freedom and opportunity."

The ceremony followed, and the crowd joined in the blessing and singing along "Maoz Tzur" - the event was finished with handshaking, taking pictures and mingling. Some of the guests didn't stop the celebration there and continued to the Hanukkah reception at the Congress.

AP
Natasha Mozgovaya