“I want to say how much Michelle and I appreciate the opportunities to have celebrated so many Hanukkahs with you in the White House … As many of you know, the name “Hanukkah” comes from the Hebrew word for “dedication.” So we want to thank you again for your dedication to our country, to the historic progress that we’ve made, to the defense of religious freedom in the United States and around the world.”
—President Obama at the 2016 Hanukkah celebration
This week, President and First Lady Obama welcomed more than 1,000 people to join in two White House Hanukkah receptions. Over the past eight years, the President has established a tradition of inviting special guests to light Menorahs of great significance here in the White House. In his final year, the President invited family members of the late Nobel Laureate Elie Wiesel and the late Israeli Prime Minister and President Shimon Peres to join him and the First Lady in celebrating Hanukkah.
The Menorah at the first reception was made in kindergarten by Shira Wiesel, the granddaughter of Elie Wiesel. This menorah, though young in shelf life, carries with it the enduring spirit of a people, and of a special family. Elie Wiesel bore witness to one of the darkest chapters in history. He devoted his life to shedding light on the horrors of the Holocaust through acclaimed books like “Night.” Shira’s menorah is more than the innocent creativity of a young school child. It is a testament to the resilience of a family and of a people; it is a flicker of hope in the promise of a new generation; it is the next chapter to the living memorial that was and will forever be Elie Wiesel.
Watch the President’s remarks at the afternoon Hanukkah reception:
The Menorah in the second reception belongs to the family of late Israeli President Shimon Peres. During the Holocaust, the menorah was entrusted to a righteous neighbor, who promised to safeguard it in case the family was captured. But one year later, despite the risks, the family quietly locked the doors and closed the windows. They unpacked the menorah and lit the candles to remember and honor the miracle of the Hanukkah story. Days later, German officers raided and burned down the neighbor’s house. All was destroyed, except this menorah.
The Walden family survived the raid and the war, and eventually moved to Israel in 1952. Among their meager belongings, they brought their menorah. Two decades later, their son Raphael married Tsvia Peres, the only daughter of Sonia and Shimon Peres, one of Israel’s founding fathers and most prominent lights. The two families have since gathered together every Hanukkah to light this menorah and recall the miracle of its existence and the Jewish people’s continued survival.
Both of the these Menorahs underscore the spirit of Hanukkah and remind us that light will prevail even in the darkest of times. We are honored to light the Menorah for the last time at the White House alongside both the Wiesel and Peres families.
Watch the President’s remarks at the evening Hanukkah reception:
From all of us at the White House, Chag Orim Sameach and Happy Hanukkah!