Wednesday, December 12, 2012

President Obama To Host Hanukkah Party On Thursday, With Menorah That Survived Sandy

The reception marks the second time a menorah reclaimed after a devastating hurricane is lit at the Obama White House...
UPDATE: The full report
President Obama will celebrate Hanukkah with a White House reception this Thursday, Dec. 13, the sixth night of the eight-day holiday.  Each year, the menorah used for the President's candle-lighting is loaned to the White House, and has symbolic significance that ties in to the Jewish story of overcoming vast challenges.  This year's brass, 90-year-old menorah is being loaned by Temple Israel of Long Beach on Long Island, New York, which was decimated by Hurricane Sandy.  A hurricane-surviving menorah is something of an Obama tradition:  In 2010, the President's guests lit candles on a menorah borrowed from a New Orleans temple, reclaimed after Congregation Beth Israel was ravaged by Katrina.  (Above, the President and First Lady with the Katrina menorah) 

Thursday's 7:40 PM Hanukkah reception in the Grand Foyer will be the second holiday event at which President Obama spotlights Hurricane Sandy.  When he lit the National Christmas Tree last week, the President told a story about a group of neighbors on New York's devastated Staten Island who banded together to create a community Christmas tree: "The tree has one message.  It's Christmas time, not disaster time," he said.  

The White House contacted Temple Israel's Rabbi David S. Bauman about two weeks ago to arrange the loan of the seven-foot-tall menorah, The New York Times reported.  Located on the temple's second floor, the menorah survived a ten-foot storm surge during Sandy, though a chapel, a library, religious books and six Torah scrolls were destroyed.  After the Rabbi sent photos of the menorah to the White House, the deal was rapidly sealed. 

"The next thing I know I’m talking to the White House curator and the Secret Service," Rabbi Bauman, 41, said. "It’s an incredibly humbling experience."

The Rabbi is a reserve chaplain in the Marine Corps, and he will travel with the menorah to the White House for the President's party.  

“The Hanukkah story and the story of recovery from a hurricane are not dissimilar,” said Jarrod Bernstein, the White House director for Jewish outreach and a Long Island native who helped select the menorah.  Though the stories are not entirely the same, Bernstein said, "the spirit of reconstituting and re-sanctifying is still there."  The menorah will honor the 200 or so congregants of Temple Israel, and everyone impacted by the storm, Bernstein added.

The White House serves kosher foods at the Hanukkah receptions; a video of the kashering of the kitchen and the 2011 reception menu is here.  It is identical to the menu served in 2010.  The President's guests typically include a Jewish family invited to light the menorah; Members of Congress; Cabinet Secretaries; a few Supreme Court Justices; members of the Diplomatic Corps and Jewish religious and community leaders.  A different menorah is currently on display in the White House, placed in the Grand Foyer.

The 2009 menorah the President's guests lit was sterling silver, and dated to 1783, the work of Viennese silversmith Cyril Schillberger.  It was loaned to the White House by the Jewish Museum in Prague at the request of Mrs. Obama, who visited when she was touring Prague's Jewish Town in April of 2009. (Above: The President and Mrs. Obama as the menorah was lit by children)

In 2010, the menorah borrowed from Congregation Beth Israel in New Orleans, Louisiana was found covered in mud and mold after the temple was filled with eight feet of water during Hurricane Katrina.  But it was recast in silver and lit for the first time in 2007, the White House said.

In 2011, the menorah used for the President's Hanukkah party was created in a displaced persons’ camp after World War II, the White House said.  It was dedicated to General Joseph T. McNarney, who served as the Commander in Chief of United States Forces in the European Theatre from November 1945 to March 1947.  It was loaned for the occasion by The Jewish Museum, New York.

The Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty, an organization that helped communities in New York City and on Long Island during Sandy’s aftermath, notified the White House's Bernstein about Temple Israel's menorah, the Times reported.

*The President's 2012 Hanukkah message.

*Top photo by Pete Souza/White House; second by Samantha Appleton/White House