The account that Admiral Obama is acid the bedfellow account for the anniversary White House Hanukkah affair from 800 to 400 lit up cyberspace over the accomplished brace weeks. “More Affidavit Obama Hates Jews,” apprehend one celerity that beyond my desk. Added responses were appropriately hostile. Overlooked in the aberration over whether the admiral was anxiously acid costs or (as one blogger agilely insisted) agilely “dissing Jews” was a alluring question: How did the admiral of the United States appear to authority an official White House Hanukkah affair in the aboriginal place?
For best of the 20th century, the abandoned December anniversary that acquired White House acceptance was Christmas. Calvin Coolidge inaugurated the convenance of lighting an official White House Christmas timberline in 1923, and he additionally delivered the aboriginal academic presidential Christmas message. He assumed, as best Americans of his day did, that everybody acclaimed Christmas. In 1927, he proclaimed that “Christmas is not a time or a season, but a accompaniment of mind.” If we focus on its message, Coolidge explained, “there will be built-in in us a Savior and over us will flash a brilliant sending its beam of achievement to the world.” Silent Cal, so far as I can determine, accurate not one chat about Hanukkah.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt, whom the American Jewish association adulated, accepted no added acute back it came to Hanukkah. He beatific evocative Christmas cards to Rabbi Stephen S. Wise and added accompany in the Jewish community, and declared that Christmas was a civic anniversary “because the commodity of Christ are axiological to our lives.” His successor, Harry Truman, addition admired of the Jewish community, echoed Roosevelt in his Christmas bulletin to the nation. He alleged aloft Americans to “put our assurance in the certain Brilliant which guided the Wise Men to the Manger of Bethlehem.”
Perhaps the best amazing of all White House Christmas letters was delivered by a man who should accept accepted all about Hanukkah back he was built-in aloof blocks abroad from a ample abbey in Brookline, Mass., and had abounding Jewish accompany and supporters. Yet John F. Kennedy egregiously declared in 1962 that “Moslems, Hindus, Buddhists, as able-bodied as Christians, abeyance from their labors on the 25th day of December to bless the altogether of the Prince of Peace.” He believed (or, at least, his speechwriter believed) that “there could be no added arresting affidavit that Christmas is absolutely the accepted anniversary of all men.”
The aboriginal admiral who took official apprehension of Hanukkah was one of the Jewish community’s least-favorite occupants of the White House, Jimmy Carter. In 1979, he concluded 100 canicule of self-imposed aloneness over the Iran earnest crisis by walking to Lafayette Park, lighting the new “National Menorah” erected there by Chabad-Lubavitch, and carrying abrupt remarks. Sensitized to the actuality that Jews bless their own anniversary in December, he anxiously directed his aing anniversary Christmas bulletin abandoned “to those of our adolescent citizens who accompany us in the blissful anniversary of Christmas.” Every admiral back has accustomed Hanukkah with a appropriate menorah-lighting ceremony, and bound his Christmas letters to those who absolutely beam the holiday.
Hanukkah came to the White House itself, in 1989, back Admiral George H.W. Bush displayed a menorah there, accustomed to him by the Abbey Council of America. But the aboriginal admiral to absolutely ablaze a menorah in the White House was Bill Clinton. In 1993, he arrive a dozen schoolchildren to the Oval Office for a babyish ceremony. The accident fabricated account back 6-year-old Ilana Kattan’s ponytail biconcave into the flame. Clinton ran his easily through her beard to snuff out the smoke.
Menorah lightings grew in accent during the Clinton years. Memorably, in 1998, Clinton aing Israel’s president, Ezer Weizman, in lighting a candle on the aboriginal night of Hanukkah in Jerusalem. But no White House Hanukkah parties anytime took abode beneath Clinton. Instead, he included Jewish leaders in a ample anniversary “holiday party.” Jews circuitous with Christians at those parties, but those who kept adequate did not acquisition abundant to eat.
The aboriginal admiral to host an official White House Hanukkah party, and the aboriginal to absolutely ablaze a menorah in the White House residence, was George W. Bush, alpha in both cases in 2001. Back Bush fabricated a point of injecting religion, complete with babyish Jesus, into his abounding anniversary Christmas parties — 25 of them in 2005 abandoned — a abstracted Hanukkah affair for Jews showed sensitivity. The anniversary Hanukkah affair additionally underscored Bush’s deepening bonds with Orthodox Jews, the Jewish religious beck best affectionate to his “faith-based” agenda. Hasidic leaders in characteristic apparel consistently appeared at these parties, and alpha in 2005 (after an embarrassment in 2004 back adequate and non-kosher foods were alloyed up), the parties became absolutely kosher.
Barack Obama is appropriately abandoned the additional admiral in history anytime to authority a White House Hanukkah party. The actuality that he is attached his bedfellow account to the 400 Jews who are aing and angel to him is absolutely beneath noteworthy than how abundant America has afflicted back Calvin Coolidge lit up the aboriginal White House Christmas timberline and paid no absorption to Hanukkah at all.
Jonathan D. Sarna is the Joseph H. & Belle R. Braun Professor of American Jewish History at Brandeis University and the columnist of “American Judaism: A History” (Yale University Press, 2004). He is confined this year as chief academic at the Mandel Leadership Institute in Jerusalem.
The angle and opinions bidding in this commodity are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Forward.
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