WASHINGTON (Dec. 16)
At a White House ceremony last week marking the first day of Chanukah, President Bush was compared to the Maccabees for his leadership in acting against Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait.
“Your actions in the Persian Gulf, opposing wicked aggression and shameless threats of a modern-day Antiochus, is in the true Maccabean spirit,” said Rabbi Chaskel Besser, a member of the presidium of Agudath Israel of America and chairman of the Polish department of the Ronald Lauder Foundation.
The president’s participation in the Dec. 12 ceremony, held in the Old Executive Office Building, came a day after he met with Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir.
“Your friendly meeting yesterday with Prime Minister Shamir gave us a lot of hope,” Besser said.
Rabbi David Greenzweig, president of the Council of Jewish Organizations in the Borough Park section of Brooklyn, N.Y., presented Bush with a centuries-old menorah rescued from the Warsaw Ghetto.
“The ancient story of the first Chanukah is one of victory over persecution, aggression and intolerance,” Bush told the audience of some 150 Jewish leaders and schoolchildren.
He noted that Jews have struggled against persecution over the centuries and that the first Jews “came to this country as early as 1654 to live a life free from intolerance and persecution.”
The president reaffirmed to the audience “the American ideal of freedom of worship.”
The president also pointed to his efforts on behalf of Soviet Jewry. “Last year at this ceremony, we spoke of our efforts to help Vladimir Raiz and other brave refuseniks” leave the Soviet Union, Bush said. “By Passover, Raiz was a free man.”
He observed that more than 150,000 Soviet Jews have emigrated so far this year.
Bush had an opportunity to greet one of those emigres, Lidia Shestopalova, a fifth-grader at the Gesher Jewish Day School in Alexandria, Va.
Some 80 students from the day school attended the ceremony, with 15 of them making up a chorus to sing Chanukah songs.
Also present were Barbara Bush, Vice President Dan Quayle and his wife, Marilyn. As he did last year, the president tried his hand at a game of dreidels. But like last year, he did not do too well.