Chanukah II: Obama’s Revenge


Chanukah — or "Hanukkah" — made it into the program.

After being assailed for just about every imaginable trivial deviation from Bush-era Chanukah celebrations, the Obama White House not only headed off the critics,  the organizers managed to go their predecessors a couple better.

First, there was the souvenir program, with its front-page welcome: "The President and Mrs. Obama welcome you to the White House in celebration of Hanukkah, the Festival of Lights."

A couple of folks in the community had assailed the White House for sending out invitations to a "holiday" party. "Bush always mentioned Chanukah," one griped, although, JTA has learned, it turns out the invites to all of the Christmas season parties used "holiday."

So there was "Hanukkah" (okay, non-AP style book style, but that’s another halacha altogether), and not only that, the souvenir booklet was a first. (UPDATE: My bad. Hanukkah is AP style. Chanukah is JTA style. What, you didn’t know we had a style?)

The program also went into great detail about the kosher certification of every availaible item — also a first, according to insiders. The page was graced by an engraving of the White House.

(When was the last time the Israeli president, noch, guaranteed that "all meats are Glatt Kosher, all baked goods are Pas Yisroel, all wines are Mevushal, all foods have been prepared Lemihadrin with a Mashgiach Temidi.")

White House officials, Obama on down, were acutely aware of the storm in a kiddush cup that had made headlines in The Jerusalem Post, The Washington Post and The New York Times (this story was so plainly stupid, JTA endeavored to keep its coverage to our blog pages — and one Op-Ed, which admittedly fueled the fire). Obama, posing in an adjacent room on the sly with a select few — including Supreme Court Judge Ruth Bader Ginsburg — told the photographer to keep the Christmas tree out of the shot.

Officials made advance calls about the color scheme of the souvenir booklet — which was more "Jewish"? Blue and silver or blue and gold? (Blue and silver.)

It didn’t stop the griping — major machers known for their Bush friendliness complained afterwards that there was no receiving line and that Obama’s appearance lasted only 20 minutes or so. (Again, like the "holiday" flap, the lack of a receiving line was consistent with the other celebrations.)

Rabbi Levi Shemtov, who directs American Friends of Lubavitch, anticipated such kvetching — and was ready with a scoffing dismissal.

"Everyone would have loved a receiving line but somehow or other, unfortunately, it does not seem constitutionally mandated," he said. "There were certain small changes in style, but not in substance."

Obama, not surprisingly, skated past the bloody message of the holiday and instead spoke of its message of social justice:

Jews have lit the Hanukkah candles as symbols of resilience in times of peace, and in times of persecution – in concentration camps and ghettos; war zones and unfamiliar lands. Their light inspires us to hope beyond hope; to believe that miracles are possible even in the darkest of hours.

It is this message of Hanukkah that speaks to us no matter what faith we practice or what beliefs we cherish. Today, the same yearning for justice that drove the Maccabees so long ago inspires the protestors who march for peace and equality even when they know they will be beaten and arrested for it. It gives hope to the mother fighting to give her child a bright future even in the face of crushing poverty. And it invites all of us to rededicate ourselves to improving the lives of those around us, spreading the light of freedom and tolerance wherever oppression and prejudice exist.

The only serious controversy of the evening involved Vice President Joe Biden.

Ethan and Esther Moran, and Alison Buckholtz, the children and wife of Navy Cmdr. Scott Moran currently stationed in Iraq, lit the candles on the historical menorah on loan from the Prague Jewish museum. They said the blessings in Hebrew, and behind them, it appeared as if Biden was doing same.


Does Biden know the Hebrew by virtue of his machateinister (one of his sons married into a Jewish family)? Or, standing behind Ms. Buckholtz, was he reading the transliteration on her blessing card? Or … was he faking it?

Inquiring minds want to know. N.Y. Times? Washington Post? J-Post? Take it from here.

UPDATE: Here’s a photo, courtesy of the White House (Samantha Appleton):


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