It was not Hanukkah.
Hanukkah would not be celebrated for another couple of weeks.
And December 6, 2005, was a bitterly cold night in Washington, DC.
However, it was The White House Hanukkah party and people flew in from as far as California and Florida to attend.
Invited guests were lined up early and down the block waiting to enter the white tent with metal detectors and security. An Armenian woman in line in front of us had come from Boston with her friend. She assumed she got on the invitation list because of her involvement with the Holocaust Museum. You did not have to be Jewish to want to accept an invitation to a Hanukkah party at the White House.
The candle lighting ceremony and speeches were only for a few select guests, but thanks to C-Span anyone can still see them.
After finally arriving inside there was a chance for a photo op, five seconds, and a handshake with the President and First Lady.
Me with two George W.s in one photo, and the only ones ever really impressed were our movers as they unpacked the fragile items when we moved to Jerusalem, Israel.
After smiling for 300 or so photos the Bushes disappeared to the family living space and the party began.
The holiday decorations that year were of a nature theme. Those are fresh pears in the above photo. The Yellow Room was decorated with lemons, perfect for etrog jokes
Hanukkah parties in the White House had been held for a number of years, with some food kosher and some not kosher. What made this party so special was that Laura Bush decided to serve only kosher food. So for the first time the White House kitchen was kashered. Sections were steamed, things were covered, it resembled the finest of Passover hotel kitchens.
And the food, they had it all – mountains of brisket, piles of stuffed cabbage and latkes, laid out on many tables around several rooms.
There was even a dreydel cake on display, not far from The White House’s traditional holiday gingerbread house.
After the West Point choir sang Hanukkah songs, they stayed for the party. Who knew there was a Jewish choir at the US West Point Military Academy? The young cadet sitting at our table told us he was graduating soon and the next day after would be off to Israel for a wedding. His brother had met a girl on his Nefesh B’Nefesh flight and they were getting married in Israel.
Would the first George W. or anyone ever have imagined that three times groups of Jewish men would use The Blue Room as a synagogue?
Maybe it was all those years of public school, standing in the halls for those endless programs of Christmas songs, that made this experience all the more impressive.
That year ‘education’ was the theme. Rabbis and school principals from across the country were invited to join Jewish American leaders. It was President Bush who mentioned that Hanukkah and education come from the same root in Hebrew – ‘dedicate.’
Laura Bush threw a great Hanukkah party.
It was so much fun, it was hard to leave,
but the great miracle happened here.
What was your favorite Hanukkah party?