Menu JTA Search

Merriment but No Menorahs Lit at Chanukah Party Hosted by Bush

SIGN UP FOR THE JTA DAILY BRIEFING

There was plenty of merriment but no blazing menorahs Monday, as President Bush hosted a Chanukah celebration at the Old Executive Office Building adjacent to the White House.

White House regulations forbid candles to be lit inside the building.

However, that did not prevent children from three Hebrew schools in the Richmond, Va., area from reciting the blessings over the candles, though they omitted any mention of God’s name, since the ritual could not be completed.

God’s name was also omitted when Jewish communal leaders from Richmond bestowed upon Bush the Hebrew blessing recited for a ruler or king. The reason was uncertainty over whether a popularly elected official qualifies as either.

Leaders of the Jewish Community Federation of Virginia also presented the president with a bronze menorah, as a gesture of gratitude for his efforts to win freedom for Jews in the Soviet Union and, more recently, Ethiopia.

Bush also was thanked for his emigration advocacy by Yekaterina Rabkin, a 10-year-old Soviet immigrant who now attends the Rudlin Torah Academy in Richmond.

“Just as the Temple of Jerusalem was rededicated at Chanukah, so are we rededicated to freedom of faith around the world,” Bush told 125 people at what has turned into an annual event.

As in past years, many of those invited were elementary Hebrew school students from around the region, this year coming from Richmond.

Bush said the menorah is a “reminder of history’s first recorded battle for religious freedom. As a symbol of the centuries-long quest for liberty and tolerance, it proudly shines with courage and with constancy, with conscience and with strength.”

LITTLE LUCK WITH THE DREIDEL

As examples of the “light shining” today, Bush cited the movement toward democracy in Eastern Europe, the newly revived Middle East peace process and the airlift of more than 14,000 Ethiopian Jews to Israel earlier this year.

“In the words inscribed on many of the Chanukah lamps: ‘Blessed shall you be in your coming, and blessed shall you be in your going,'” the president said.

A choir of 8- to 10-year-olds from Rudlin Torah Academy sang “Maoz Tsur” (Rock of Ages) in Hebrew and English for the president. Also in attendance were children from Temple Beth E1 Hebrew school and the Jewish Community Day School of Central Virginia.

Bush and Vice President Dan Quayle played several spins of dreidel, with the president on many of his tries winding up with the letter “heh,” meaning half the pot. Apparently frustrated with the result, Bush remarked that “two halves make a whole.”

Among the Jewish administration officials joining in the celebration were Dennis Ross, director of the State Department’s policy planning staff; Richard Haass, the National Security Council’s senior director for the Near East and South Asia; Marshall Breger, legal counsel at the Labor Department; and A. Mark Neuman, director of congressional affairs at the Commerce Department’s Bureau of Export Administration.

NEXT STORY