In Obama's Last Hanukkah in Office, a Special Role for Peres Family Heirloom

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U.S. President Barack Obama toasts with former President Shimon Peres during an official state dinner in Jerusalem, Israel, March 21, 2013.
U.S. President Barack Obama toasts with former President Shimon Peres during an official state dinner in Jerusalem, Israel, March 21, 2013.Credit: Jason Reed, Reuters

Hanukkah candles will be lit at the White House on Wednesday using a special menorah owned by the family of the late President Shimon Peres, after U.S. President Barack Obama chose to dedicate the final candle-lighting of his presidency to Peres’s memory. 

Invited by Obama to light the first candle are the late leader’s son, Chemi Peres, and granddaughter Mika Almog. The event, which will take place ten days before the official start of the Jewish holiday, will be attended by Jewish organizational leaders and congressional and White House officials, among other guests. 

Despite the gap in their ages and backgrounds, Obama and Peres hit it off and developed a personal bond, as described by the U.S. president at Peres’ funeral in September.

President Barack Obama walks past a lit menorah at the Hanukkah reception, Wednesday, Dec. 17, 2014.Credit: AP

In his tribute, Obama said, “I took great pleasure in my friendship with this older, wiser man. We shared a love of words and books and history. And perhaps, like most politicians, we shared too great a joy in hearing ourselves talk. But beyond that, I think our friendship was rooted in the fact that I could somehow see myself in his story, and maybe he could see himself in mine.”

Peres and Almog landed in Washington on Monday carrying their family menorah which survived the Holocaust and was passed down through the generations as a family Hanukkah miracle. 

The story related by the family is the following: the Walden family concealed their Jewish identity in wartime France, and hid their family heirlooms – Judaica and silverware – with a friendly neighbor on a farm close by. They feared that if Nazis discovered the Jewish items, their identity would be revealed and they would be arrested or killed. 

On Hanukkah, however, the family retrieved the menorah in order to light candles for the eight nights of the holiday, doing so in secret, drawing the curtains and locking the doors. They did so without knowing that over the course of the holiday, the Germans would set their neighbor's farm on fire and all of their family's other valuables would be destroyed. 

Because the menorah had been removed, it was saved. The menorah that survived the Holocaust was brought to Israel by the family of Peres' son-in-law, Professor Rafi Walden. 

According to the family, Peres held the menorah in a place of honor as “a symbol to the Peres-Walden family of the transition from darkness to light, and from the Holocaust to renewal.”

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