US President Donald Trump said Jerusalem was in his heart as he hosted the White House’s annual Hanukka party on Thursday night. “Right now, I am thinking about what is going on and the love that is all over Israel and all about Jerusalem,” Trump said.
The party took place just one day after Trump declared that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel, the first such US recognition of the city since the country’s establishment in 1948.
“I know for a fact there are a lot of happy people in this room,” Trump said as he looked out at the audience.
The miracle of Hanukka, Trump said, “is a sign of God’s presence in his dwelling place and a symbol of the faith and resilience of the Jewish people.”
“The descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob have endured unthinkable persecution and oppression,” he said.
“But no force has never crushed your spirit and no evil has ever extinguished your faith. That is why the Jewish people shine as a light to all nations,” Trump said.
He spoke of both the strong ties between Israel and the United States and the contribution American Jews have made to the country.
“We are proud to stand with the people of Israel and to renew our enduring bond,” Trump said.
With respect to US Jewry, he added, “I want to say how grateful I am to the Jewish congregations throughout our country. You cherish your families, support your communities and uplift our beloved country.”
Holocaust survivor Louise Lawrence-Israels, who stood by Trump’s side, told of how she hid with her family in an attic in Amsterdam for three years during World War II.
It was a storage attic on top of a row house, about five blocks away from where Anne Frank hid with her family.
“We were often hungry or cold, but we thought that was normal,” she said.
“We never talked about religion or celebrated the holidays, that would have been too dangerous. Our prayer books and other Jewish things like a kiddish cup, were buried and my mom had given our menorah to a trusted friend to keep for us,” Lawrence-Israels said.
“We could not have survived without the courageous help of people from the resistance,” she said.
“We were lucky. The first time we celebrated Hanukka together I was four years old. We received a very special present – an orange. My brother and I had never seen one,” she said.
“Smelling it and holding it in our hands was so special [we] did not even want to eat it. I was afraid I would not have a present anymore,” she said.
Now, Lawrence-Israels said, she makes sure to always have a bowl of oranges on the table when she celebrates Hanukka.
“Hatred caused six million Jews to be murdered, of which one and a half million were children,” she said. “People let this happen by not standing up to hatred. They were indifferent. We cannot let that happen again. Hatred and prejudice should not have a place in the world,” she said.
“We all have to work for a future where all children will have a chance to smell an orange,” Lawrence-Israelis said.
Rabbi Meir Soloveichik of Congregation Shearith Israel in New York, which was founded in 1654, also spoke at the event.
He thanked the president for his Jerusalem declaration.
“Jerusalem lies at the very heart and soul of every Jew and of Judaism itself,” he said. “We pray three times a day for the rebuilding of Jerusalem. The light of Hanukka represents not only the undying light of Judaism but the light of Jerusalem itself, which burns in every Jewish soul.”