President Bush's Last Chanukah Reception in the White House

The grandsons of President Truman and Prime Minister David Ben Gurion lit the menorah. A team of rabbis "kashered" the White House kitchen.

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Nissan Ratzlav-Katz,

Laura Bush in a kashered White House kitchen
Laura Bush in a kashered White House kitchen
Israel News Photo: (White House press office)

United States President George Bush arrived home from a surprise visit to Iraq and Afghanistan to host the annual White House pre-Chanukah reception on Monday afternoon. The grandsons of US President Harry Truman and Israel's first
The holiday of Chanukah, Bush continued, "recalls the miraculous victory of a small band of patriots against tyranny."
Prime Minister David Ben Gurion lit the menorah [holiday candelabra]. A team of rabbis made the White House kitchen kosher for the event.

Speaking in the Grand Foyer of the White House, President Bush began by quipping that he had "a pretty eventful weekend," in reference to his unannounced trip to Baghdad and Kabul. "It was an unbelievable experience, it really was, to stand next to the president of a democracy and hold my hand over my heart as they played the national anthem in front of one of Saddam Hussein's palaces," he said. Bush added, to the amusement of those in attendance at the reception, that he told Afghani President Hamid Karzai, "I need to get back to the White House for an important event."

The holiday of Chanukah, Bush continued, "recalls the miraculous victory of a small band of patriots against tyranny, and the oil that burned for eight nights. Through centuries of exile and persecution, Jews have lit the menorah. Each year, they behold its glow with faith in the power of G-d, and love for His greatest gift - freedom."

The U.S. leader continued: "This Chanukah, we celebrate another miraculous victory, the 60th anniversary of the founding of the State of Israel. When President Harry Truman led the world in recognizing Israel in May of 1948, many wondered whether the small nation could possibly survive. Yet from the first days of independence, the people of Israel defied dire predictions. With determination and hard work, they turned a rocky desert into fertile soil. They built a thriving democracy, a strong economy, and one of the mightiest military forces on earth. Like the Maccabees," President Bush said, "Israel has defended itself bravely against enemies seeking its destruction. And today, Israel is a light unto the nations - and one of America's closest friends."

In honor of the occasion, the Truman Library provided the White House with the menorah President Truman received from Prime Minister Ben Gurion in 1951. "I'm deeply moved," President Bush said, "to welcome the grandsons of these two great men - Clifton Truman Daniel and Yariv Ben Eliezer - to light the Truman menorah together."

Bush related a story told of Ben Gurion and Truman meeting again some time afterwards, when Ben Gurion told Truman that "as a foreigner he could not judge President Truman's place in American history, but the President's courageous decision to recognize the new state of Israel gave him an immortal place in Jewish history. Those words filled the President's eyes with uncharacteristic tears. And later, Ben Gurion would say he rarely had seen somebody so moved," Bush concluded.

Before turning the floor over to a capella singers from Kol Zimra, Ben Eliezer lit the pre-Chanukah candles with Truman Daniel standing alongside the famous candelabra.

Earlier, the White House kitchen was made kosher to accommodate the Jewish holiday reception. Three Chabad-Lubavitch rabbis, Rabbi Mendel Minkowitz, Rabbi Binyomin Steinmetz and Rabbi Levi Shemtov, oversaw the process. It was the fourth time in American history that the White House kitchen was made kosher.

Jews around the world will light candles for the Chanukah holiday this year on Dec. 21-28.