Washington — It has become something of a White House Chanukah tradition.
For the second time, the Obama White House used a menorah from a hurricane-hit region to mark the holiday.
This Chanukah, Rabbi David Bauman brought to the White House one of two 90-year-old menorahs that survived when Hurricane Sandy ravaged Temple Israel in Long Beach, N.Y. The menorah used in 2010 at the White House was from a New Orleans synagogue hit by Hurricane Katrina.
“This 90-year-old menorah survived, and I am willing to bet it will survive another 90 years, and another 90 years after that,” Obama said before the lighting of the candles Thursday night at the White House Chanukah party. “So tonight, it shines as a symbol of perseverance, and as a reminder of those who are still recovering from Sandy’s destruction – a reminder of resilience and hope and the fact that we will be there for them as they recover.”
Jarrod Bernstein, the White House’s 32-year-old director of Jewish outreach, was behind the choice of candelabra. He told JTA that Jewish organizational efforts to help rebuild communities – Jewish and non-Jewish – hit by Sandy fit perfectly with President Obama’s emphasis on getting relief to the Northeast in the storm’s wake.
“Having a menorah with meaning allows us to embody the best spirit of Jewish experience, in the middle of what is a national challenge,” Bernstein said. “There is a Jewish dimension to this – the American Jewish community is ‘working to make this a more perfect union’ as the president often calls it.”
Bernstein described his “aha” moment during a drive to visit family in New York, where he served for years as a community outreach official for Mayor Michael Bloomberg. He had been agonizing about what would serve as the most potent symbol joining the holiday with Obama administration policy.
His wife, Hildy Kuryk – who also happens to be the Democratic National Committee’s finance director – suggested a menorah from one of the many New York-area synagogues hit by Sandy.