Chanukah at the White House is always a kick for participants – this year, about 500 from Jewish communities across the country – but for some, there was special meaning in Thursday night’s gathering.
Three Supreme Court Justices were in attendance – all of them Jewish: Justice Stephen Breyer, Justice Elena Kagan and Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. As President Barack Obama noted in his remarks, that’s fully one-third of the high court.
“It’s always a thrill to be able to see the president and first lady up close and have your picture taken with them,” said Sammie Moshenberg, Washington director for the National Council of Jewish Women (NCJW). “But the pictures I will cherish the most are the grainy iPhone photos people took of me with Justices Ginsburg, Kagan and Breyer. That was a real thrill.”
Obama addressed the terrible forest fires ravaging northern Israel, offering his “deepest condolences” to Israeli ambassador Michael Oren and promising that efforts are underway “across the US government to identify the firefighting assistance we have available and provide it to Israel as quickly as possible…that’s what friends do for each other.”
The menu included salmon, sushi and latkes. There were also followup briefings on the Middle East peace process for participants.
The menorah for the evening came from Congregation Beth Israel, an Orthodox shul in New Orleans.
“Reflecting on this event, one cannot help but note how privileged American Jews are to live in this country at this time,” wrote OU Washington director Nathan Diament in his blog. “For centuries, Jews could not imagine being welcomed to the home of their head of state in a way remotely resembling this; our ancestors were persecuted and expelled by rulers. Here, the President of the United States invites hundreds to celebrate Chanukah in The White House, pledges aid to ‘friends’ in Israel and serves up glatt kosher fare. One can only say: ‘God Bless America.’”
Rabbi Gerald Skolnik writes about the event in this week’s Jewish Week column.
Here’s the White House video of the President’s remarks.