Rabbi Bradley Shavit Artson, a vice president of the American Jewish University in Bel-Air, his wife Elana, and their daughter Shira participated in an afternoon Hanukkah reception at the White House today.
The Artsons recited the traditional Hanukkah blessings in the White House’s Grand Foyer to a crowd of about 550 that included President Barack Obama.
“We’re here to celebrate a story that took place more than 2,000 years ago, when a small group of Maccabees rose up to defeat their far more powerful oppressors,” Obama said.
“In the face of overwhelming odds, they reclaimed their city and the right to worship as they chose. And in their victory, they found there wasn’t enough oil to keep the flame in their temple alive.
“But they lit the oil they had and, miraculously, the flame that was supposed to burn for just one night burned for eight. The Hanukkah story teaches us that our light can shine brighter than we could ever imagine with faith, and it’s up to us to provide that first spark.”
Attendees at an evening Hanukkah reception in the White House’s Grand Foyer included Rabbi Morley T. Feinstein of University Synagogue in Brentwood; Rabbi Zachary R. Shapiro of Temple Akiba in Culver City and his husband, Los Angeles Controller Ron Galperin; Rabbi David Wolpe of Sinai Temple in Westwood; and Cantor Yonah Kliger of Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills.
“During this darkest time of the year, Hanukkah celebrates religious freedom, hope and the possibility of miracles in our lives,” Kliger said. “These ideals are truly American and whole-heartedly Jewish.”
Kliger told City News Service it was “especially meaningful” to celebrate Hanukkah at the White House on the day Alan Gross was released after being imprisoned in Cuba since December 2009 for bringing satellite telephones and computer equipment to members of Cuba’s Jewish community.
“In my work as a community leader, I never take for granted the freedoms we have in our country, especially with social media, which has become an important part of how I connect with my congregants and the community at large,” Kliger said.