WASHINGTON - A day after U.S. President Donald Trump's announcement recognizing Jerusalem as Israel's capital, the White House on Thursday will host its first Hanukkah reception of Trump tenure in office. The celebratory event will host Trump supporters from the Jewish community, who feel the President has fulfilled a major promise by calling Jerusalem Israel's capital and promising once again to move the U.S. Embassy to the city.
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The reception will take place at 7 P.M. EST, (2 A.M. Friday in Israel), and President Trump will give remarks halfway through the evening. Trump is expected to emphasize his support for Israel, while repeating his commitment to reaching a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians. Vice President Mike Pence will also attend the event.
The White House has indicated to the Jewish leaders invited that the event will be smaller than the Hanukkah receptions organized in previous years by the Obama and Bush administrations. The current administration is interested in a "more intimate" atmosphere, one invitee explained.
Nathan Diament, executive director for public policy at the Orthodox Union, told Haaretz that he plans to attend the event, and believes it will be a happy one, in light of the President's decision on Jerusalem. Diament attended past Hanukkah receptions organized by the Obamas and the Bushes, and recalls that "First Lady Laura Bush tried very hard to make sure that each year, about half of the people who were invited would be guests that hadn't been invited previously. She was very committed to that."
Diament adds that Laura Bush "deserves credit for deciding that all the food at the reception would be Kosher." He explained that when they began the Hanukkah reception tradition in 2001, the first receptions featured both Kosher and non-Kosher food, but that after discovering that some observant guests had accidentally consumed non-Kosher food at one of the receptions, Mrs. Bush insisted on changing the menu so that it would feature only Kosher dishes.
During the Obama years, Diament says, the Hanukkah receptions grew significantly larger, and at some point, the Obamas began hosting two different events on the same day, each attracting hundreds of guests. It's unclear how many people will attend Trump's first reception, but Diament said that "obviously, some of the names on the guest list will be different."
Mort Klein, the president of the Zionist Organization of America, is planning to attend.
"I like going because it’s a chance to meet a number of important and influential Jews and if I get friendly with them maybe they can help promote my agenda," he told Haaretz. "I've been at the White House so many times, it doesn’t have the excitement that it once did.” Klein said he’s been there half a dozen times since Trump has become president.
Representatives of the Reform Movement, the largest Jewish movement in North America, have not been invited. It's doubtful they would have attended had they been invited, both because of the movement's strong opposition to many of Trump's policies, but also because the Union for Reform Judaism is holding its national conference this week in Boston.
Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum of the LGBT synagogue Beth Simchat Torah in New York, told Haaretz, "I have not been invited and would not go if invited. The only way I'd go near the White House now is for a protest."
Rabbi Avraham Bronstein, an Orthodox rabbi from The Hampton Synagogue in New York, told Haaretz, that to paraphrase what a colleague of his wrote on Facebook, one day being invited to a White House Hanukkah celebration is a professional aspiration, "and a political aspiration is, once invited, feeling morally comfortable attending."
Next week, two Jewish members of Congress, Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL) and Lee Zeldin (R-NY), will hold a joint Hanukkah party on Capitol Hill, in a rare display of bi-partisan cooperation. Unlike the White House reception, the event will take place during the Hanukkah holiday itself, and will include lighting a Menorah.