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In Last Hanukkah at White House, Obama Praises Spirit of Jewish Tradition

The outgoing president calls 'proudly practicing our religion, whatever it might be, and defending the rights of others to do the same' a shared American creed.

President Barack Obama delivers remarks during a Hanukkah reception at the White House, December 14, 2016.
Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP

President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama lit the White House Menorah candle on Wednesday to commemorate the upcoming Hanukkah holiday, the last such lighting ceremony for the Obamas before President-elect Donald Trump takes office in January.

Jewish communities across the United States are set to mark the start of the eight-day Hanukkah celebration, also known as the Festival of Lights, on December 24th.

"Everybody in America can understand the spirit of this tradition," said Obama of lighting of the menorah.

"Proudly practicing our religion, whatever it might be, and defending the rights of others to do the same. That's our common creed. That's what families from coast to coast confirm when they place their menorah in the window. Not to share the candle's glow with just your family but also with your community and with your neighbors."

Hanukkah commemorates the 2nd century B.C.E. victory of Judah Maccabee and his followers in a guerrilla revolt in ancient Judea against armies of the Seleucid Empire.

The Menorah is a key part of the festival, because according to Jewish tradition, the Maccabees found only enough ritually pure oil to light a ceremonial lamb in the temple in Jerusalem for one day, but the oil burned for eight days.

One light on the nine branches of menorah is lit for every night of the Hanukkah holiday.

Attending this year's celebration were family members of Nobel Laureate and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel, who died earlier this year.

Obama said that the menorah chosen was made by Wiesel's granddaughter Shira in kindergarten.

When Obama explained what the menorah was made of, Shira corrected him, leading Obama to joke that, "Over the years your grandfather also corrected me several times. And it was always very helpful."

To conclude the ceremony Rabbi Steven Exler of the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale in the Bronx, New York, led the Obamas and the guests in a rendition of the gospel spiritual "This Little Light of Mine", followed by a blessing for the lighting of the menorah.

The White House Hanukkah celebrations were begun by President Bill Clinton, the Jewish Magazine Forward reported. Under Obama, the magazine says, the list of attendees has become much more diverse and liberal, to include not only major donors and prominent Jewish-Americans, but also local activists and rabbis.