A Kosher Christmas: 'Tis the Season to Be Jewish

By Joshua Eli Plaut | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 2
HANUKKAH
COMES OF AGE:
THE NEW JEWISH CHRISTMAS

Beginning in 2009 and during each year of his presidency, President Barack Obama and First Lady Michele Obama hosted Hanukkah parties at the White house for more than five hundred guests. For his first Hanukkah party at the White House, President Obama continued the approach of his predecessor, George W. Bush; he served kosher food at the presidential Hanukkah party. The White House kitchen was ritually cleansed and koshered (including ovens, appliances, dishes, and cutlery) by rabbis of the Chabad-Lubavitch movement. President Obama started a new presidential tradition, however, by becoming the first president to distribute two versions of a national Hanukkah message, one in English and another in Hebrew.

National religious celebration is not new to the White House and its occupants. Calvin Coolidge was the first president to preside over the first national Christmas tree-lighting ceremony in 1923 at President’s Park.1 A sitting president of the United States had not officially acknowledged Hanukkah until the latter half of the twentieth century when President Jimmy Carter first lit a menorah in 1979 in a formal ceremony at Lafayette Park, which is situated across the street from the White House and near the national Christmas tree. President Carter’s official presidential daily diary for December 17, 1979, notes that the “President participated in a lighting ceremony for the National Menorah” from 6:53 to 7:05 p.m.2 The first formal menorah lighting, organized in the White House’s Oval Office in 1993 during the presidency of Bill Clinton, gave Hanukkah a level of increased formal presidential attention previously reserved for

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