Obama Hanukkah 248.88.
(photo credit: Curtousy White House)
US President Barack Obama and his wife hosted a Hannuka candle-lighting ceremony at the White House on Wednesday night.
During the ceremony, attended by Jewish community leaders, friends and White House staff, the president promoted ideals of freedom, tolerance and justice.
Emphasizing the historical story of Jewish revolt, the president said, "It was more than 2,000 years ago, in the ancient city of Jerusalem, that a small band of believers led by Judah Maccabee rose up and defeated their foreign oppressors - liberating the city and restoring the faith of its people," according to the White House blog. In contrast to a candle-lighting held during the George W. Bush's presidency, the White House this year closed the ceremony to the press, and only released official photos and statements after the event.
Noting that Jews had ever since marked the occasion by lighting candles during Hanukka, in times of war, prosecution and suffering, Obama said, "It was a triumph of the few over the many; of right over might; of the light of freedom over the darkness of despair. And ever since that night, in every corner of the world, Jews have lit the Hanukka candles as symbols of resilience."
Calling the light of Hanukka one that "inspires us to hope beyond hope; to believe that miracles are possible even in the darkest of hours," Obama said that the message of the Maccabees and its "yearning for justice" offers "hope to the mother fighting to give her child a bright future even in the face of crushing poverty. And it invites all of us to rededicate ourselves to improving the lives of those around us, spreading the light of freedom and tolerance wherever oppression and prejudice exist."
The hanukkia was provided by the Prague Jewish museum and was lit by the children of a US serviceman currently deployed overseas.
The White House Hanukka party had come under scrutiny after a guest list of only 400 had been made. Following public discord over the size of the party, the White House expanded the guest list. A White House spokesman said that around 500 people had been invited.
The initial list was roughly half the total invited last year, according to a former Jewish liaison in the Bush White House.
"There were certainly more than 800 invited [last year]," said the liaison, a position whose duties include managing the Hanukka party guest list.
However, local Jewish leaders told the Jerusalem Post that White House officials had previously told them the numbers were being reduced from last year, citing reasons including the economic situation and high costs involved in providing kosher food.
But some took the difference in the parties' sizes to raise questions about the Obama administration's relationship with the Jewish community, which has experienced some rocky moments in the administration's first year in office.
Hilary Leila Krieger, Jerusalem Post Correspondent, contributed to this report