Smack dab in the middle of Chanukah, the White House was abuzz with Jewish holiday spirit. Not to mention excitement about the main attraction, the country’s leader recognizing the minority religion’s winter celebration.
As a band played classical music, invited guests grabbed some bubbly or wine and were given free reign to tour the rooms before the menorah lighting for the fourth day of Chanukah.
But the central event, seeing President Donald Trump, couldn’t come quickly enough for Chuck Berk, co-chair of the Republican Jewish Coalition of Atlanta, who traveled to Washington to attend the Chanukah reception Dec. 6 with his wife, Bonnie.
They were kind enough to share with readers their experience of Chanukah at the White House.
Trump greeted the crowd and honored the holiday; former President George H.W. Bush, who was being buried that day; Holocaust survivors; and the victims of the Pittsburgh massacre.
“Today I’m thrilled to commemorate the miracle of Chanukah. More than 2,000 years ago, a band of Jewish patriots led by Judah Maccabee reclaimed their freedom from an oppressive dictator who had persecuted the Jewish people and ransacked the Holy Temple. … Throughout history, the Jewish people have suffered unthinkable repression and terrible violence. Yet, in the face of this hardship, the Jewish people have endured, overcome and thrived. Thrived, like few, that I can tell you, thrived.
“Five weeks ago, our nation mourned a horrific tragedy. Eleven Jewish Americans were brutally murdered in a sinister anti-Semitic attack on the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh. … In the aftermath of that wicked assault, we reaffirmed our solemn duty to confront anti-Semitism everywhere it occurs. We must stamp out this vile hatred from the world.”
At that point, Trump recognized eight Holocaust survivors who attended. He also spoke about his support for Israel, sanctions against Iran, what he sees as a failed Iran nuclear deal and the decision to move the Israeli embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
“Civilization is indebted to the Jewish people for their incredible contributions to art and science, history, culture and society. Since the founding of America, Jewish communities have uplifted every aspect of our national life. Today we renew our gratitude for those amazing blessings and we reaffirm our unbreakable solidarity with the Jewish people.”
Trump’s opening of the White House for Chanukah continues a tradition that began when Bill Clinton lit the first menorah there in 1993, according to The Forward. But the White House connection with the holiday dates back to when Israel Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion gave a menorah to President Harry Truman on his birthday in 1951, as reported by the National Archives. In 1979, Jimmy Carter lit the menorah on the Ellipse, just south of the White House, and George H.W. Bush displayed a menorah in the White House given to him by the Synagogue Council of America in 1989, The Forward reported.
The first president to host an official White House Chanukah party was George W. Bush, in 2001, according to the Yiddish-based newspaper.
Before Trump’s Chanukah reception, the Berks had visited the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum to view some of its new exhibits, Chuck Berk said. “At the party, when we were standing in the East Room waiting for President Trump to address the attendees, Bonnie turned to me and remarked, ‘After being at the Holocaust Museum today and being reminded of that horrific experience, it reinforces what a great country we live in that we can be invited to a Chanukah party hosted by the President of the United States in the White House!’”