Barack Obama photo

Remarks at a Hanukkah Reception

December 05, 2013

The President. Hello, everybody! Welcome to the White House. Now, normally, we just have one Hanukkah reception, but this year, we are hosting two, because we have so many friends to celebrate with, we had to do it twice. And I'll be welcoming a whole other group this evening. Don't tell them, though, but you're my favorite group. [Laughter] It is our own little Hanukkah miracle. The party that was supposed to last only 1 hour will go on for 8. [Laughter] You got that one? [Laughter]

Now, this is the fifth time I've celebrated Hanukkah as President. But this is my first "Thanikkah." Did I say that right?

Audience member. Thanksgivukkah.

The President. This intersection of two wonderful holidays has inspired a whole lot of people across America; we are delighted to welcome a few of them here tonight.

We've got 10-year-old Asher Weintraub from New York City—where's Asher? Asher came up with what we believe is the world's first-ever menorah shaped like a turkey. It is called the "menurkey". [Laughter] Where is the menurkey? I had it just a second ago.

The First Lady. Wait. You just had it. Where is the menurkey?

The President. We've got to bring in the menurkey out here. I'll continue speaking. You've got to see this. Thank you, Asher, for your spirit and your creativity.

We've got Dana Gitell. Where's Dana, who actually coined the term "Thanksgivukkah".Her sister Deborah—oh, here's the menurkey.

Audience member. Team Thanksgivukkah is here!

The President. There we go. [Laughter] So I'm going to keep this in a special place.

So Dana, along with her sister Deborah, expect this term to catch on around the country. Where are they?

Hebrew SeniorLife Marketing Specialist Dana Reichman Gitell. Right here.

The President. There they are. Let's see them. Hey, guys. How are you? They've had a lot of fun with their project. But there is a serious side to it, because they've said they always express their gratitude to America, a place where no matter who you are, you can always celebrate your faith. And that same spirit is reflected in the menorah that we're about to light.

It was designed by Manfred Anson, who was born in Germany in 1922. And as a child, he lived through the horrors of Kristallnacht and later lost a brother to the Holocaust. But Manfred escaped, and like the Maccabees at the center of the Hanukkah story, he fought against tyranny, serving in the Australian army during World War II. And like the Maccabees, after the war was over, he sought a place where he could live his life and practice his religion free from fear. So for Manfred and millions like him, that place was ultimately America.

And Manfred passed away last year, but during his life, he designed this special menorah, with a model of the Statue of Liberty at the base of each candle. I don't know if you've noticed that. In a few moments, all nine Lady Liberties will be shining: a reminder that our country endures as a beacon of hope and of freedom wherever you come from, whatever your faith.

And that beacon stays bright because of families like the ones that will join me in lighting the menorah this evening: the Schmitters. Now, dad, Jake, could not be here because he's deployed in Afghanistan. But we are joined by his wonderful wife Drew, his daughters Lainey and Kylie—go ahead and wave, guys. [Laughter] So, Drew, Lainey, Kylie, I want you to know how proud we are of not only your dad, but also of you. And we're so grateful for the sacrifices that you make on behalf of our country every single day.

And tonight we give thanks to all the men and women in uniform and for their families. They make tremendous sacrifices on our behalf, on behalf of our freedom and our security: not only of us, but our allies and friends around the world, including our friends in the State of Israel. And the commitment and the courage of our men and women in uniform and their families is itself a miracle for which we give thanks.

As the Festival of Lights draws to a close, let's take one last chance to think about all the miracles we've been lucky enough to experience in our own lives. There are small miracles, like the invention of the menurkey. [Laughter] And then there are big miracles, like the chance to be a part of this great country.

The first day of Hanukkah and Thanksgiving won't overlap again for more than 70,000 years. So it's safe to say that this was a once-in-a-lifetime event—[laughter]—unless there's a—really a scientific breakthrough that we don't know about. But while we never may see again another Thanksgivukkah, I know that if we can show the same resilience as Manfred Anson and the same resourcefulness as young Asher, as well as Dana and Deborah, and the same strength as military families like the Schmitters, we will be blessed with many more miracles for years to come.

So thank you, everybody. Happy Hanukkah. And now I want to welcome Rabbi Amanda Lurer, a lieutenant in our Navy, to say a blessing.

Rabbi Amanda Lurer. Hanukkah formally ends tonight as the sun goes down this evening. But it will always be appropriate for us as we gather to remind ourselves and the world of the meaning of this holiday. So in that spirit, in this wonderful gathering, we now kindle the menorah and recite two blessings. And as we kindle the lights, we'll say—the first one is the she-asa nissim blessing, thanking God for the miraculous capability to bring light to the darkest corners of the world and for leaders who are dedicated to strengthening religious freedoms in our days as in the day of the Maccabees.

The second blessing is shehecheyanu, that simple yet powerful prayer of thanksgiving, for the blessing of life, the gift of light and the privilege to celebrate Hanukkah together. Please join me.

[At this point, a Hebrew prayer was sung. A second prayer was then recited.]

The President. All right.

[The menorah was lit.]

The President. Well, thank you all again for being here. We hope you have a wonderful celebration. And we can't stay to party because I got to go back to work. [Laughter] But I do want to make sure that we get a chance to shake hands with all of you briefly as we go by. And again, we just want to thank the Schmitters and make sure to tell dad we're proud of him too.

Military Spouse Drew Schmitter. Okay.

The President. Okay. Thank you. Enjoy, everybody. Thank you.

NOTE: The President spoke at 4:31 p.m. in the Grand Foyer at the White House. In his remarks, he referred to Deborah Gitell, vice president of client strategy, Awestruck Marketing Group.

Barack Obama, Remarks at a Hanukkah Reception Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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