[Video and photos.] “Welcome to the White House,” called out President Barack Obama, standing beside his wife Michelle, to a full crowd of Jewish guests attending his annual Chanukah reception on Wednesday.
“Every year, Michelle and I like to invite just a few friends over for a little Chanukah celebration,” the president said. “Nothing fancy. Actually, this is the second year we’ve invited so many friends that we’re hosting two parties instead of one. This is our first party – it is the best party. Don’t tell the others, though,” he joked.
As they did last year, the White House upped the total number of participants to 1000 people, 500 attending each of two back-to-back receptions.
The president mentioned in his speech American Alan Gross’ release from Cuba, saying that one of the great mitzvahs is “pidyon shvuyim.”
“He’s back where he belongs,” said the President, “in America, with his family, home for Chanukah. And I can’t think of a better way to mark this holiday, with its message that freedom is possible.”
The Menorah that was lit was built by two girls who attend a school in Jerusalem which brings Jewish and Muslim students together. Two of the students, Inbar Vardi and Mouran Ibrahim, traveled from Israel to light the Menorah.
“Inbar and Mouran and their fellow students teach us a critical lesson for this time in our history: The light of hope must outlast the fires of hate,” said Obama.
“That’s what the Hanukkah story teaches us. That’s what our young people can teach us – that one act of faith can make a miracle. That love is stronger than hate. That peace can triumph over conflict. And during this Festival of Lights, let’s commit ourselves to making some small miracles ourselves and then sharing them with the world,” he said.
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