Thursday, December 2, 2010

President Obama: Hanukkah candles represent not just a triumph of the past, but also hope for the future

(via Suntimes, YWN, ABC). President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama have convened a Hanukkah celebration at the White House on the second night of the Jewish festival of lights.

The celebration occurred in the East Room Thursday, where 500 guests, including Rabbi Capers C. Funnye, Jr. who is Mrs. Obama's cousin recited traditional prayers while lighting candles in a menorah lent by a congregation in New Orleans that was devastated by Hurricane Katrina. The president and first lady looked on as the candle-lighting ceremony took place, Among the others present: the three Jewish Supreme Court justices: Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer and Elena Kagan.

Unlike last year, there was a photo line with the president, who greeted his guests with Mrs. Obama for remarks and a menorah lighting. Quipped Obama, who was elbowed last weekend in a basketball game and required stitches, "Yes, they will be able to photo shop my lip for the picture. 

Saxophonist Joshua Redman played a poignant "Rock of Ages," a traditional Hanukkah song and the Marine Band in the foyer was playing a medley of Hanukkah tunes.

"Tonight, we gather to celebrate a story as simple as it is timeless. It’s a story of ancient Israel, suffering under the yoke of empire, where Jews were forbidden to practice their religion openly, and the Holy Temple — including the holy of holies — had been desecrated.

It was then that a small band of believers, led by Judah Maccabee, rose up to take back their city and free their people. And when the Maccabees entered the temple, the oil that should have lasted for a single night ended up burning for eight.

That miracle gave hope to all those who had been struggling in despair. And in the 2,000 years since, in every corner of the world, the tiny candles of Hanukkah have reminded us of the importance of faith and perseverance. They have illuminated a path for us when the way forward was shrouded in darkness.

And as we prepare to light another candle on the menorah, let us remember the sacrifices that others have made so that we may all be free. Let us pray for the members of our military who guard that freedom every day, and who may be spending this holiday far away from home.

Let us also think of those for whom these candles represent not just a triumph of the past, but also hope for the future — the men, women and children of all faiths who still suffer under tyranny and oppression.

That’s why families everywhere are taught to place the menorah in public view, so the entire world can see its light. Because, as the Talmud teaches us, “So long as a person still has life, they should never abandon faith.”

Now, the menorah we’re using tonight, and the family who — who is going to help us light it, both stand as powerful symbols of that faith.

This beautiful menorah has been generously loaned to us by Congregation Beth Israel in New Orleans. (Applause.) Five years ago, when Hurricane Katrina hit, the synagogue was covered in eight feet of water. Later, as the cleanup crew dug through the rubble, they discovered this menorah, caked in dirt and mold. And today it stands as a reminder of the tragedy and a source of inspiration for the future.

And that feeling is shared by Susan Retik. It’s a feeling they know all too well. After her husband, David, was killed on September 11th, Susan could have easily lost herself in feelings of hopelessness and grief. But instead, she turned her personal loss into a humanitarian mission — co-founding “Beyond the 11th,” a group that reaches out to Afghan widows facing their own struggles.

So on this second night of Hanukkah, let us give thanks to the blessings that all of us enjoy. Let us be mindful of those who need our prayers. And let us draw strength from the words of a great philosopher, who said that a miracle is “a confirmation of what is possible.”