It’s not often you get invited to the White House. I had my chance this week, when I was a guest at the White House’s Hanukkah party. Now, when I say “guest,” I mean I was a guest of the president — of Hadassah, that is.
My mother, Nancy Falchuk, is the president of one of the largest Jewish charitable organizations in the world, Hadassah. Her organization sponsors many different charitable activities, particularly related to healthcare (here she is in Jerusalem speaking at the ceremony lighting the walls of the Old City pink in honor of the Susan G. Komen Foundation.)
One of the terms she uses a lot is “healthcare diplomacy” — the idea that part of the solution to intractable problems of war and peace is building bridges through something that we all share — the need for healthcare. Her organization does incredible work to realize this mission. She has been a regular guest at this annual event at the White House.
I was surprised to learn that the first Hanukkah party at the White House didn’t happen until 2001. Presidents for centuries have hosted Christmas celebrations at the White House, but not until 2001 was there a Hanukkah party. Was this a reflection of some kind of anti-semitism, or just a reflection of the norms of America from the days before we fully appreciated our multicultural heritage? I don’t know, but I found this event to be special, and moving.
President Obama had this to say that night about the story of Hanukkah:
It’s a story of ancient Israel, suffering under the yoke of empire, where Jews were forbidden to practice their religion openly. . . 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.
So there I was, with my mom, seeing the first African American President preside over the recitation of a Jewish prayer beneath that famous portrait of George Washington. It was a moment of pride, honor, and gratitude. And a reminder that freedom comes through perseverance, faith, and sacrifice.
*This blog post was originally published at See First Blog*