The history and gravity of Hanukkah in the White House

December 1, 2021

The Biden White House will hold a Hanukkah party on Wednesday. The story of the Jewish holiday "teaches us that even a little bit of light, wherever it is found, can dispel the darkness and illuminate a path forward," President Biden said in a statement.

Yet the brightest light of this holiday season came earlier this week. On Sunday night, second gentleman Doug Emhoff, husband of Vice President Kamala Harris, spoke at the National Menorah lighting ceremony to celebrate the first night of Hanukkah. Emhoff is the first Jewish spouse of an American president or vice president, so his appearance meant far more than the usual ceremonial obligation political spouses are often asked to fulfill. Indeed, it underscored how the Biden White House represents a uniquely diverse administration in the history of the American presidency — and how honoring Emhoff's Judaism provides a powerful rebuke to resurfacing forces of intolerance in this country.

Jews have lived in North America since more than a century before the United States' founding, and American politicians, particularly presidents, have often hailed the nation's "Judeo-Christian tradition." Despite this long history, presidential observations of Hanukkah began only a little over 40 years ago. (White House Christmas celebrations, by contrast, date all the way back to 1800.)

Source: The history and gravity of Hanukkah in the White House