US President Barack Obama held a Hanukka reception at the White House on Thursday, 12 days before the Festival of Lights begins.

Obama is scheduled to be on vacation in Hawaii on December 20 when Hanukka begins, prompting the early celebration.

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“We’re jumping the gun just a little bit. The way I see it, we’re just extending the holiday spirit. We’re stretching it out. But we do have to be careful that your kids don’t start thinking Hanukka lasts 20 nights instead of eight. That will cause some problems,” Obama jested.

Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren and US Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg joined a number of rabbis and Jewish leaders as guests at the event.

In comments made to his guests, the US president suggested the story of Hanukka should serve as an example of the existence of “miracles in our own lives” and the need to “honor the sacrifices our ancestors made so that we might be here today.”

“It’s a timeless story. And for 2,000 years, it has given hope to Jews everywhere who are struggling. And today, it reminds us that miracles come in all shapes and sizes. Because to most people, the miracle of Hanukka would have looked like nothing more than a simple flame, but the believers in the Temple knew it was something else. They knew it was something special,” Obama said.

The US president added that Hanukka is “a time to be grateful for our friendships, both with each other and between our nations. And that includes, of course, our unshakable support and commitment to the security of the nation of Israel.”

Obama’s Hanukka party came a day after Republican presidential candidates met with Jewish Republicans at a forum in Washington, slamming the US president for what they called a lack of support for Israel.

Speaking before the Hanukka reception on Thursday, Obama rejected Republican claims that he was an “appeaser” in his Middle East and Israel policy.

“Ask Osama bin Laden and the 22-out-of-30 top al-Qaida leaders who’ve been taken off the field whether I engage in appeasement. Or whoever is left out there, ask them about that,” he said.

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