The annual Hanukkah reception timeline at the White House does not change much each year. Usually, there is some unique Menorah, brought especially for the festive occasion (this time, a Menorah made in a displaced persons’ camp after World War II, was lent by The Jewish Museum in New York), a mix of Jewish lawmakers, officials, rabbis, activists and donors, president’s remarks, music and good food.
But each year, there seem to be more and more smartphones, with guests barely looking at the President wishing them happy holiday. Instead, everyone is busy taking photos or videos of him.
This year, in a hall traditionally decorated with the Christmas tree (and a Menorah on the podium), President Obama, accompanied by the First Lady, Vice President Joe Biden and his wife Dr. Jill Biden, greeted about 550 guests. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was also present, along with the new White House Director of Jewish Outreach, Jarrod Bernstein, the Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren, AIPAC’s Howard Kohr and Lee Rosenberg, Conference of Presidents’ Malcolm Hoenlein, NJDC’s David Harris, the Orthodox Union’s Natan Diament and many others.
The Hanukkah reception came about a week earlier than the Holiday itself, which the President readily acknowledged, “We’re jumping the gun just a little bit. The way I see it, we’re just extending the holiday spirit. We’re stretching it out. But we do have to be careful that your kids don’t start thinking Hanukkah lasts 20 nights instead of eight. That will cause some problems…..
So while it is not yet Hanukkah, let’s give thanks for our blessings, for being together to celebrate this wonderful holiday season. And we never need an excuse for a good party.”
“This year,” Obama said, “We have to recognize the miracles in our own lives. Let’s honor the sacrifices our ancestors made so that we might be here today. Let’s think about those who are spending this holiday far away from home – including members of our military who guard our freedom around the world. Let’s extend a hand to those who are in need, and allow the value of tikkun olam to guide our work this holiday season. This is also a time to be grateful for our friendships, both with each other and between our nations. And that includes, of course, our unshakeable support and commitment to the security of the nation of Israel,” he concluded to applause.
The West Point Jewish Chapel Choir performed for the audience, the food (including Sushi Rolls, Caramelized Pearl Onions, Shitake Mushrooms, Pine Nut Herb Crusted Lamb Chops and Homemade Sufganyot) was kosher under “strict rabbinical supervision of Rabbi Levi Shemtov, Lubavitch Center of Washington (Chabad),” as the White House put it.
When the guests line for a picture with the President (or the kosher raspberry jelly), one can forget – for a while – about political tensions and the 2012 elections.