A Tale of Two Hanukkah Parties

This Hanukkah, my family and I had a quiet moment after candle lighting. We decided to take a look at YouTube to view some holiday-related videos. Look at what we found:

Hanukkah 2014 – The Obama White House Hanukkah Party

Hanukkah 2018 – The Trump White House Hanukkah Party

Take a look at the differences. We came up with a few things:

  1. The backdrop: in 2014 it was an ‘aitz ashuach’(Christmas tree); in 2018, it was an elegant candelabrum vaguely reminiscent of a Hanukkah menorah.
  2. In 2014, the theme was about something that happened ‘over there’, in Israel; in 2018, the party stressed the impact of the events on American Jews and the American People.
  3. In 2014, the blessings were left untranslated, giving the impression that they were viewed as relevant only to the Hebrew-speaking initiated; in 2018, these blessings were translated into English, making the experience applicable to all who cared to listen.
  4. In 2014, the centerpiece idea of the party was a school for Arabs and Jews in Jerusalem. In fact, an Arab girl was shown (showcased?), lighting the candles of the Hanukkah menorah.

Why is this necessary? Why can’t children learn about Hanukkah, without being pressured to PARTICIPATE in the rites of the holiday? What is next? Should the Jewish children be asked to participate in the slaughter of a sheep in honor of Eid al-Adha?

Surely one can know and respect other people’s expressions of their faith without having to engage personally in their forms of worship. I do not ask Muslims to celebrate my holidays, just as I do not want to celebrate theirs.

In 2018, the focus of the President’s speech was on two elements of the battle of the Maccabees: the freedom to worship HaShem in the ways of their ancestors, and political freedom for the Jews in their own ancestral Land.

Tell me: which of the hosts better understands traditional Judaism, its essence and needs? Which understands the true dynamic of the struggles in the Middle East? Which host understands how Judaism actually fits into the fabric of American life and inspires the American non-Jewish experience?

Decide for yourselves.

About the Author
Yisrael Rosenberg is a former New Englander who made aliyah 30 years ago. He lives with his wife and four children in Jerusalem.
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