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5 Thoughts On The Furor Over The White House’s Hanukkah Party


The media is so addicted to outrage that they’ve now set Hanukkah ablaze. The Jewish Festival of Lights, which begins the evening of December 12 this year, was celebrated last Thursday night at the White House. Because it was Donald Trump’s first Hanukkah party, we’re supposed to be inflamed by the White House’s supposed hostility to American Jewry.

Beyond the timing of the event, the media was offended that only 300 guests attended, not including many of their political allies on the Hill and elsewhere (e.g., J Street). They also didn’t like the decor. As a Jew watching all of this from home, I had some thoughts on the Hanukkah hullabaloo.

1. Define ‘Hanukkah Decorations’

Hanukkah has been elevated to Christmas-like importance so American Jewish children don’t feel left out in December. But Hanukkah isn’t Christmas. So I was confused by the pool reporter noting “there are no visible Hanukkah decorations or menorah in the East Room, but there are four large Christmas trees.” Yes, you could say there’s irony in celebrating a holiday about resisting assimilation while surrounded by Christmas trees.

However, what Hanukkah decorations was the pooler expecting? I honestly don’t know, because celebrating the Festival of Lights is about lighting candles (which Newsweek reports the Kushner children did), singing “Maoz Tzur” (which Elite Daily reports attendees did) and eating fried foods like potato pancakes (which The New York Times reports were on-hand).

2. The Guest List Isn’t Scandalous

Multiple articles trumpeted how shocking it is that congressional Jewish Democrats weren’t invited. But can we really be surprised? First, it’s not scandalous. Just because President Obama did things a certain way doesn’t mean everyone will, or should. As Tevi Troy, former Jewish liaison under President George W. Bush (who started the annual Hanukkah party tradition), told McClatchy, members of Congress typically weren’t invited to the White House Hanukkah party during Bush’s tenure.

Second, Jewish Democrats have been incredibly outspoken about #Resistance this past year, as is their right. But was the president supposed to invite Hillary ally Debbie Wasserman Schultz and others so they could turn their “regrets” into some sort of public performance art? Tennessee’s Rep. Steve Cohen tweeted: “Congressional Democrats Left Out of White House Hanukkah Party Honored not to have been invited and will work to see I’m not invited next year and the next and the next but in ’21!” Florida’s Rep. Lois Frankel remarked, “‘Let me just say this, not to be a hypocrite, I wouldn’t be going to any party at the White House with him.’” Exactly.

I’m all in favor of finding more common ground in politics, but that’s not where things are right now. If I were hosting the party, I’d say it wasn’t worth the drama, and I’d advise the president to work on building bridges one-on-one behind the scenes instead.

3. Descriptors Should Have Meaning

If you insist on referring to J Street as “pro-Israel,” as The New York Times does, describing them as “a progressive pro-Israel group that strongly backed Mr. Obama and the nuclear deal he forged with Iran — which was detested by many conservative Jews,” I reserve the right to take all your observations and analysis with a large grain of salt. J Street is progressive, yes, but pro-Israel no.

4. Get the Terminology Right

If you’re writing about a Jewish holiday event, please get the terminology right. Newsweek reports, “During the celebration, Trump’s Jewish grandchildren, the children of Ivanka Trump and her husband, Kushner, lit a menorah.” Numerous other outlets used the same incorrect terminology. A menorah is a candelabra with space for seven candles. It’s what was used in the Temple in Jerusalem in the Hanukkah story. To commemorate the miracle of one day’s oil lasting for eight nights, Jews now light a hanukkiah, or a candelabra with space for nine candles.

5. Thursday Night Was Historic

You wouldn’t know it from tweets, like this from CBS’ Mark Knoller, which focused on the party’s timing — and yes, it was random, just like President Obama’s not-on-Hanukkah party in 2011 — but Thursday night’s event was also historic. The president’s Jewish grandchildren were on hand to light candles. When was the last time that ever happened? Never.

So even if the president’s not “your guy,” it’s okay to feel pride while watching as Jewish traditions are passed “from generation to generation.” How do you like them apples, Antiochus?

And to all who will be celebrating this week, Chag Chanukah Sameach!