Thursday, December 13, 2012

President Obama Celebrates Hanukkah 2012 At The White House

Video: At the largest Hanukkah party of his Administration, President offers prayers for victims of Hurricane Sandy...
President Obama on Thursday evening hosted the largest Hanukkah reception of his presidency, welcoming 600 guests to the White House to mark the sixth night of the Festival of Lights.  Joined by First Lady Michelle Obama at the event in the Grand Foyer, the President stood beside a special 90-year-old brass menorah loaned from Temple Israel of Long Beach, on Long Island, New York, which was devastated by Hurricane Sandy.  The nearly seven-foot-tall menorah was unscathed, though the temple had a ten-foot storm surge that wrecked a chapel and demolished six Torah scrolls, among other damage.  (Above, the President, First Lady and Rabbi Laurence Bazer beside the menorah)

President Obama on Thursday evening hosted the largest Hanukkah reception of his presidency, welcoming 600 guests to the White House to mark the sixth night of the Festival of Lights.  Joined by First Lady Michelle Obama at the event in the Grand Foyer, the President stood beside a special 90-year-old brass menorah loaned from Temple Israel of Long Beach, on Long Island, New York, which was devastated by Hurricane Sandy.  The nearly seven-foot-tall menorah was unscathed, though the temple had a ten-foot storm surge that wrecked a chapel and demolished six Torah scrolls, among other damage.  (Above, the President, First Lady and Rabbi Laurence Bazer beside the menorah)

As he retold the story of the Maccabees, the President proclaimed Hanukkah a story of "resilience and optimism" to his guests, who included Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren, several members of the President's Cabinet, Members of Congress, Associate Supreme Court Justices Elena Kagan and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and Jewish lay and religious leaders from across the nation.  Temple Israel's Rabbi David S. Bauman, who brought the menorah to Washington, was also on hand. 

The President was joined by Rabbi Laurence Bazer, the Joint Forces Chaplain for the Massachusetts National Guard, who lit the candles and said the prayers.  Bazer was supposed to light the White House menorah last year, the President said, but he was deployed as the only Rabbi in Afghanistan.  The President pointed to both Bazer and the menorah as symbols of hope and perseverance. 

"To this day, Jews around the world honor the Maccabees' everlasting hope that light will overcome the darkness, that goodness will overcome evil, and that faith can accomplish miracles," President Obama said.

"The menorah that we're using tonight and the man who will light it are both powerful symbols of that spirit...this 90-year-old menorah survived, and I am willing to bet it will survive another 90 years, and another 90 years after that.  So tonight, it shines as a symbol of perseverance, and as a reminder of those who are still recovering from Sandy’s destruction--a reminder of resilience and hope and the fact that we will be there for them as they recover."

"We pray that its light will carry victims of Sandy and all Americans to a brighter tomorrow."

Bazer spoke briefly, noting that Thursday night was not only the sixth night of Hanukkah, but it also marked the sixth year the White House has celebrated the holiday.  He led the crowd in the Shehecheyanu, a prayer for such special occasions.  (Above, Bazer lights the menorah as the President looks on)

The guests then sang the prayers for lighting the menorah as the Rabbi lit the candles.  He and the President chatted as the crowd followed up with "Maoz Tzur," the song traditionally sung once the candles are lit.  


The President and First Lady, clad in a black dress with a white collar and sparkling brooch a the neck, greeted guests after his remarks.  When meeting a two-week-baby girl and her parents, the President cradled the child and was overheard congratulating the new father, remarking enthusiastically "You can't beat daughters."

The menu...
The White House offers a special menu to guests on Hanukkah that features traditional foods, including Latkes made with scallions; roast beef with caramelized onions and shiitake mushrooms; pine nut-herb crusted lamb, smoked salmon from Maine, winter salad, and three kinds of Sushi rolls, including vegetarian, California, Spicy Tuna.  Hanukkah treats, including Soufganyot, deep-fried jelly donuts, are part of the dessert buffet.  No official menu was released, but the White House noted that as in years past, the food preparation was under the strict rabbinical supervision of Rabbi Levi Shemtov, Lubavitch Center of Washington (Chabad), in cooperation with the Rabbinical Council of Greater Washington.  (Above:  Latkes and smoked salmon are offered at all the White House holiday receptions)

Guests were entertained by the West Point Jewish Chapel Cadet Choir, also known as Kol Masoret, the Voice of Tradition, and by the U. S. Marine Chamber Orchestra.

The reception was one of the 24 parties and dinners the President and Mrs.  Obama will host through next week, with 14,000 guests expected.

The event marked the second time the President used a menorah reclaimed after a devastating hurricane:  In 2010, the menorah lit at the White House was from Congregation Beth Israel in New Orleans, which was devastated by Hurricane Katrina.  It was salvaged and recast in silver before being used at President Obama's holiday party. 


From the White House, the background on the menorah:

"This lamp is hand crafted of solid brass and has stood at nearly seven feet tall on the pulpit of Temple Israel of Long Beach for over 90 years. In the true spirit of the miracle of Hanukkah, while the synagogue, located in Long Beach, New York, was left severely damaged after Hurricane Sandy in October 2012, the menorah was saved and will continue to shine for decades more to come.

As it stands on the pulpit year round, this menorah has just seven branches, modeled after the lamp described in the Bible, constructed by Moses and housed in the Holy Temple. Additional branches are added to make a nine-branch Hanukkah menorah. The eight branches commemorate the Hanukkah story of the oil burning for eight nights, and the ninth branch, known as the shamash, is used as the source of light for the eight Hanukkah candles.

As we light the menorah this evening in honor of the sixth night of Hanukkah, we remember the miracles of past and present, and keep in our thoughts those still recovering from Hurricane Sandy and from devastation across the United States and the world. We hope that this light will carry us into better times.

This menorah was lent by Temple Israel of Long Beach, known as the Bayit, a vibrant congregation in Long Beach, New York. Temple Israel was dedicated as the first synagogue in Long Beach, New York on August 31, 1924."

*Transcript:  President Obama's remarks, 2012 Hanukkah reception

*The President's Hanukkah message, released on Dec. 7. CLICK HERE for a White House video about kashering the kitchen for Hanukkah.

*Top photo, Pete Souza/White House; second by pool; Latke photo by Eddie Gehman Kohan/Obama Foodorama