US President Joe Biden and First Lady Jill Biden hosted the traditional Hanukkiah lighting ceremony at the White House on Wednesday, during which Biden confirmed Prof. Deborah Lipstadt as his choice for the next special envoy to monitor and combat antisemitism.
Vice President Kamala Harris and Second Gentleman Doug Emhoff participated in the ceremony as well.
“We just saw an instance so horribly antisemitic, flyers being left at peoples’ homes in Los Angeles,” the president said about an antisemitic incident that took place in California in a Beverly Hills neighborhood earlier this week.
Residents were shocked to wake up to antisemitic flyers left on their front yards on Sunday in what the local police department says it is investigating as a hate crime.
“We have to stand against the resurgence of this tide of antisemitism and other forms of intolerance and hate here at home and around the world,” said Biden. “In that effort, there is no one more qualified than Prof. Deborah Lipstadt to be special envoy to monitor and combat antisemitism.”
Lipstadt’s nomination has been stalled in the past few weeks and it is still unclear when the Senate will debate and vote to confirm her.
Biden also welcomed Israel’s new ambassador to the United States, Mike Herzog. “Ambassador, I look forward to working with you to reaffirm the longstanding ties between the US and Israel,” he said. “I have known every prime minister well since Golda Meir.”
“When we light this menorah at the White House, when Jewish families place menorahs in their windows, we’re proclaiming liberty,” Biden continued. “We’re exercising the freedom the Maccabees sought to simply practice their faith. And we’re showing that there’s still light: that even the most fragile flame can be sustained in the tradition and nourish the soul of the people.
“A little bit of light, wherever found, can dispel the darkness,” he said. “And whether it is in the Temple of Jerusalem or in our temple of democracy, nothing broken is beyond repair.”
Some 150 Jewish leaders, cabinet members and members of Congress attended the event that was held under COVID restrictions − without food or drinks. Among them: Attorney-General Merrick Garland, DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, senators Chuck Schumer, Jacky Rosen, Ben Cardin and Jon Ossoff, and House members Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Jamie Raskin, Ted Deutch and Josh Gottheimer.
Jewish leaders in attendance included AIPAC’s Howard Kohr, ADL’s Jonathan Greenblatt, Conference of President’s William Daroff and Malcolm Hoenlein, Chabad’s Levi Shemtov, DMFI’s Mark Mellman, JDCA’s Halie Soifer and Ron Klein, J Street’s Jeremy Ben Ami and Acting Envoy to Combat and Monitor Antisemitism Aaron Keyak, among others.
According to the White House, the hanukkiah used during the event is the Liberty Bell hanukkiah, designed by Manfred Anson.
Vice President Harris said that Hanukkah is “one of our family favorites as a holiday. And every year, our family, like so many around the world, gather to reflect on the lessons of the Hanukkah story – the power of the people, the possibility of the future: that even in despair, there is hope; that even in darkness, there is light.
“We all know, for 2,000 years, that these important lessons have been a beacon for people across our world,” she said. “As Jews have gathered to light the menorah – a tradition that has endured, yes, during moments of darkness; a tradition that has endured in moments also of celebration − we have known, and always know, that we will not be deterred, that we will not be distracted from what we know is good; and our commitment − an enduring commitment − to good.”