Speaking at the White House Hanukkah party last Thursday night, President Barack Obama paid tribute to the Festival of Lights and the victims of Hurricane Sandy, by welcoming a menorah that had managed to survive the devastation left in its wake.
“Six weeks ago the Temple Israel Synagogue in Long Beach, NY was badly damaged by Hurricane Sandy,” said the president. “But this 90-year-old menorah survived. 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 in the fact that we will be there for them as they recover.”
The congregation’s rabbi, David S. Bauman, said that the “last six weeks have been devastating for our congregation, our community and other communities that were hit by Sandy, but we are coming out of it and this opportunity to come to the white house to bring our menorah to light it for Hanukkah is a real beacon of light and so as we come through this we establish great joy.”
Rabbi Bauman explained that Pslam 30, a Psalm for Kind David, speaks about the rebuilding of the Temple.
“Of course the Psalm is talking about the Temple in Jerusalem,” he said, but continued to note that all synagogues are considered to be small sanctuaries.
“We are now rededicating our synagogue” to those effected by Sandy, he added.
The White House has a tradition of selecting menorahs with some kind of meaningful history. Last year, the menorah displayed at the Hanukkah party was one built at a displaced persons camp in Europe after World War II. In 2010, officials selected a menorah salvaged from a synagogue destroyed by Hurricane Katrina.
“The Hanukkah story and the story of recovery from a hurricane are not dissimilar,” Jarrod Bernstein, the White House director for Jewish outreach, told The New York Times upon announcing this year’s menorah selection. “Though not entirely the same,” he said, “the spirit of reconstituting and re-sanctifying is still there.”
The synagogue, which opened in 1923, sustained about $5 million worth of damage during the hurricane.