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Evening Hanukkah Reception


The President: Good evening, everybody! Welcome to the White
House, and Happy Hanukkah! (Applause.) It so happens we’re a little early this year. (Laughter.) But Michelle and I are going to be in Hawaii when Hanukkah
begins, and we agreed that it’s never too soon to
enjoy some latkes and jelly donuts. (Laughter.) This is our second Hanukkah party today, but in the spirit
of the holiday, the White House kitchen has
not run out of oil. (Laughter.) Dad jokes for every occasion. (Laughter.) I want to recognize some special guests that are
with us today. There are a number of
members of Congress here who obviously are so
supportive of the values that are represented
by this holiday and extraordinarily strong
friends of Israel. We’ve got Justice Breyer and Justice Ginsburg in the house. (Applause.) We’ve got one of the country’s finest jurists, who I happened
to have nominated to the Supreme Court and who’s
going to continue to serve our country with
distinction as the chief judge on the D.C. circuit,
Merrick Garland is here. (Applause.) Our wonderful and outstanding and tireless Secretary of the Treasury, Jack Lew, is here. (Applause.) As is our U.S. Trade Representative and
former B-B-Y-O president, Mike Froman. (Applause.) And I want to give it up for our outstanding musical
guests, Six-Thirteen, who just did a amazing
performance for Michelle and I of a “Hamilton”
remix talking about the Maccabees, and the
President, and menorahs, and — Mrs. Obama:
It was good. The President : If you
ever have a chance to get the mix-tape, you
should buy it. (Laughter.) Now, this is the eighth year that Michelle and I have hosted
this little gathering. And over the years, we’ve
welcomed Jewish Supreme Court justices, Cabinet
secretaries, members of Congress. We celebrated Alan Gross’s return from captivity in Cuba. (Applause.) We got to celebrate a once-in-70,000-year
event, Thanksgivvikuh — (laughter) — where we lit the “Menurkey.” (Laughter.) That was a turkey-shaped menorah, in case you forgot. (Laughter.) Mrs. Obama: We got it. The President : So this is
a White House tradition that we are proud
to carry on. It gives us a
lot of nakhas. (Laughter.) If I pronounced that right, then that was a
Hanukkah miracle. (Laughter.) Tonight, we come together for the final time to tell a
familiar story — so familiar that even
we Gentiles know it. But as many times
as we tell it, this 2,000-year-old tale
never gets old. In every generation,
we take heart from the Maccabees’ struggle
against tyranny, their fight to live in peace and
practice their religion in peace. We teach our children
that even in our darkest moments, a stubborn flame
of hope flickers and miracles are possible. (Applause.) That spirit from two millennia ago inspired America’s founders two centuries ago. They proclaimed a new
nation where citizens could speak and assemble, and worship as they wished. George Washington himself
was said to have been stirred by the lights of
Hanukkah after seeing a soldier seek the warmth of
a menorah in the snows of Valley Forge. And years later,
Washington wrote that timeless letter we have on
display today in the White House — I hope you saw
it when you walked in. Washington assured the
Jews of Newport, Rhode Island, that the United
States “gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance.” (Applause.) He went on to write that all that is required of those “who
live under [the nation’s] protection” is that they
be “good citizens.” It’s easy, sometimes, to
take these fundamental freedoms for granted. But they, too,
are miraculous. They, too, have to be
nurtured and safeguarded. And it’s in defense of
these ideals — precisely because the Jewish people
have known oppression — that throughout our
history, this community has been at the forefront of every fight for freedom. It’s why Jews marched in
Selma, why they mobilized after Stonewall, why
synagogues have opened their doors to refugees,
why Jewish leaders have spoken out against
all forms of hatred. And in my last months in
office, I want to thank you for all your courage,
and your conviction, and your outspokenness. (Applause.) The story of this community and the work you continue to do to
repair the world forever reminds us to have faith
that there are brighter days ahead. (Laughter.) Mrs. Obama: They’re a little cynical. (Laughter.) The President : No, no, no, they’re not cynical. Mrs. Obama:
Little doubtful. The President : The
menorah we light today is a testament such
resilient optimism. It belonged to Rina and
Joseph Walden, a young Polish couple who acquired
it in the early 1900s. When the Second World War
came, the Waldens fled to France and took
shelter on a farm. And they hid their
Jewishness, including their magnificent menorah,
entrusting it to a courageous neighbor. But one Hanukkah, they
retrieved their menorah and lit it behind locked
doors and covered windows. That same week, the Nazis
raided their neighbor’s house and burned
it to the ground. Of all the Walden family’s
treasures, only this menorah survived. A few years later, the
Waldens moved to Israel, where their son Raphael
met a young woman named Zvia Peres — the only
daughter of one of Israel’s founding fathers
and greatest statesmen. And I had the honor to go
to Jerusalem earlier this year to bid farewell to my
dear friend Shimon Peres and reaffirm the
commitment of the United States to the
State of Israel. We could not be more
honored to have Shimon’s son, Chemi, his
grandson, Guy, and his granddaughter, Mika,
here with us tonight. (Applause.) The Walden-Peres family lit these lights when the
State of Israel was new. They’ve blazed it in the
months after the Yom Kippur War and the
Camp David Accords. And tonight, Chemi and
Mika will light this amazing heirloom
in the White House. And as they do, we hope
all of you draw strength from the divine spark
in Shimon Peres, whose miraculous life taught
us that “faith and moral vision can triumph
over all adversity.” I hope it inspires us to
rededicate ourselves to upholding the freedoms
we hold dear at home and around the world — that
we are able to see those who are not like us and
recognize their dignity, not just those who
are similar to us. I hope it inspires us
to continue to work for peace, even when it is
hard — perhaps especially when it is hard. (Applause.) And, as Washington wrote to the Jews of Newport more than
200 years ago, “May the father of all mercies
scatter light, and not darkness, in our paths.” I’d now like to invite
Rabbi Rachel Isaacs from Colby College and Temple
Beth Israel in Waterville, Maine — which I said
sounds cold — (laughter) — to say a few words and
lead us in blessings. But first, I have to get
a box, because she’s a little shorter than I am. (Laughter.) (A prayer is offered.) Well, we hope that you enjoy this
celebration here at the White House. On behalf of Michelle and
myself, we could not be more grateful for your friendship and your prayers. And we want to emphasize
that although we will be leaving here on January
20th — Audience : No! The President : — we will
meet you on the other side. (Laughter.) And we’ve still got a lot of work to do. We look forward to doing
that work with you, because it’s not something
that we can do alone, and you’ve always been such
an extraordinary group of friends that strengthen us
in so many different ways. I should also note
that your singing was outstanding. (Laughter.) I think this was an exceptional group of voices here. (Laughter.) Thank you very much, everybody. God bless you. (Applause.)

Stephen Childs

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