Obama the savior 248.88.
(photo credit: AP [file])
Ahead of the first night of Hanukka Friday, US President Barack Obama drew inspiration from the Maccabees and the miracles they witnessed in a greeting to Jews around the world.
"May Hanukkah's lessons inspire us all to give thanks for the blessings we enjoy, to find light in times of darkness, and to work together for a brighter, more hopeful tomorrow," he said in statement.
His message comes ahead of Sunday's lighting of the National Menorah, organized by Chabad's Washington branch and set to feature White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emmanuel, and a round of Washington celebrations of the festival of lights.
The most prestigious of these, the White House Hanukka party, will be held on Wednesday and feature a menorah provided by the Prague Jewish museum to be lit by the children of a US serviceman currently deployed overseas.
Following public discord over the size of the party, the White House has expanded the guest list. A White House spokesman said that around 500 people had been invited, with a New York Times story published Friday putting it at exactly 550.
The number is significantly higher than the approximately 400 guests White House officials earlier in the fall told several Washington Jewish leaders that they planned to invite, according to Jewish leaders who spoke to The Jerusalem Post. The White House spokesman declined to provide the original figure.
Though that number was consistent with those invited to George W. Bush's inaugural Hanukka party his first year in office, it 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," said the liaison, a position whose duties include managing the Hanukka party guest list.
Though the White House did not provide the total invited last year, the spokesman said 584 guests were the most to actually attend any Bush Hanukka party.
"The number of people invited to our party is in line with the number of people that were invited to the Bush administration Hanukkah receptions over the last few years," he said.
Local Jewish leaders told the Post, though, that Obama White House officials had previously told them the numbers were being reduced from last year, citing reasons including the economic situation and high cost involved with 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.
"One wonders if there is more to this reduction than the reasons given by the administration, such as the high cost of kosher food and a desire to allow the list to grow over time. Over the past year, the Obama administration has given the Jewish community a number of reasons to fear that it takes its votes for granted," said one-time Bush White House official Tevi Troy in a Jewish Telegraphic Agency op-ed, written in response to the Hanukka party story first published in the Post last month.
Troy, talking to the Post Friday about the boost in invitations, praised the White House for showing flexibility after his and others' criticism.
"I give them credit for changing the game plan," he said. "They don't want to take heat on a symbolic issue at a time when there have been actual substantive disagreements."
But another Jewish activist, speaking on condition of anonymity, wasn't so laudatory.
"Part of what you've seen over the last few weeks has been extensive efforts at damage control, to not let a relatively trivial matter like the number of people eating kosher food at the Hanukka party impact on important matters of public policy and the American Jewish community," he said of the guest list growth.
"They continue to misjudge and under-appreciate the nuance of how the White House should deal with the Jewish community."
But Nathan Diament of the Orthodox Union - whose position on the president's Advisory Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, not to mention his being a Harvard Law School classmate of Obama's, all but guaranteed him a slot - said that the brouhaha was much ado about nothing.
"It's wonderful that the president and First Lady are holding a party in honor of Hanukka," he said. "It's a holiday and it's a party and everyone should just be happy."
Jennifer Mizrahi, head of The Israel Project, agreed that the size of the guest list was beside the point.
She explained, "I know I'm in a much less exclusive crowd, but I'm still happy to be invited!"