Wednesday I had the privilege and honor of attending the White House Chanukah Celebration as President of the Central Conference of American Rabbis. It was an inspiring experience to stand among the leaders of the Jewish community from all over the United States – rabbis, lay leaders, professionals of Jewish organizations, politicians, military leaders, Conservative, Orthodox, Reform and secular Jews. It was inspiring to hear our President, Barak Obama, speak about the Macabees and the meaning of Chanukah as a season of fighting for religious liberty.
Here is an excerpt of the President’s remarks:
“The light from one day’s worth of oil has lasted not just for eight days, but for more than 2,000 years. The Maccabees’ sense of faith and courage and righteousness continue to animate the Jewish community even now. It’s no accident that when we’re called out to speak on behalf of refugees or against religious persecution, American Jews remember
what it was like to be a stranger, and are leading the way. And even as we draw from the best of our traditions, we’re never afraid to build on what came before and to forge a better future for our children and our grandchildren.”
Alongside our President was Israel’s President, Reuven Rivlin, who also spoke to us:
“We remember the brave Maccabees. We remember they did not fight against, they fought for – for liberty, for freedom of religion, for their traditions, for our traditions, for their ability to celebrate their own identity. Hanukkah is the holy day of spiritual activism. It is a holiday which represents the spirit of human being, created equally in the image of God.
As President Rivlin lit the beautiful Menorah on loan from a museum in North Carolina, I marveled at how far the Jewish community in America has come. I think about my grandfather David Leese who came to this country as a young boy of 12 years old from Poland by himself in the 1880’s. He never even had a Bar Mitzvah and lived in the Wild West of Butte, Montana as a furrier and tailor. Eventually he moved back to New York his port of entry to the states and eventually to Pennsylvania. a man who was tiny in stature, he sadly died before I was born. Could he even have imagined his grandchild celebrating a Jewish holiday in the White House?
Indeed how far we have all come. I was inspired by being there. I am inspired more by the freedoms so precious in our country of religious liberty. I am inspired by the light of the Chanukiah, the Menorah, to guard that precious freedom even more.