One of the most prestigious Hannukah parties of the year takes place in Washington at the White House.
Hosted by US President Barack Obama and his wife Michelle, Jewish dignitaries and representatives from across the country as well as from Israel are invited to attend.
While the guest list is somewhat large, topping off at approximately five hundred people, it is also exclusive, and one needs to be invited months in advance.
The party is so much of an event that the White House holds two Hannukah parties on the same day. This year the first was at 2 p.m. with a candle lighting ceremony held at the end of the party, and the second began at 6 p.m. with candle lighting held towards the beginning of the party. The party featured a performance by the Maccabeats as well as the Marine Chamber Orchestra.
Robbie Medwed a community outreach and education professional who is a resident of Atlanta GA, attended this year’s White House Hannukah Party and spoke to Arutz Sheva about the experience.
“The most inspiring part of the event for me was realizing that the President of the United States is leading a Jewish ritual in the White House - and not just any ritual, but the one that symbolizes our perseverance and resilience. It was an incredible moment to realize the parallels and the differences between the time of the Hannukah miracle and today."
Medwed embraced the cultural and religious pluralism which he felt permeated the event. “I think it's incredibly powerful that the leader of the country wants to honor and celebrate other religions. It's a great statement of religious pluralism - that even though it's not his own celebration, he recognizes not only the value in the celebrations for their own sake, but also for the sake of the rest of the country in acknowledging and celebrating different cultures.”
Medwed was able to witness Israeli President Reuven Rivlin lighting the candles during the ceremony following a speech and recitation of the blessings by Rabbi Susan Talve, the founding Rabbi of Central Reform Congregation of St. Louis. He also spoke of the other people that he met, of varying statures that made an impression upon him during the celebration.
“The folks I met were all extraordinary and also incredibly average, and I mean that in a very good way. There were so many people who had so many different stories from all over the country. There were people of all streams of Judaism - from black hats to Reconstructionist, and everyone was enjoying themselves and talking and celebrating together. It was a really powerful sight to see folks who otherwise would never be in the same room together enjoying each other's company.”
Medwed, who works in Jewish outreach for the LGBT community, certainly related to the message of the gala event, unity, tolerance and mutual respect among the Jewish people as well as between the United States as a whole and the Jewish people. “The party and the celebration is a great example of being able to respect and honor traditions that are different while remaining true to our own. The President of Israel ended his speech by wishing Christians a Merry Christmas, and there were Hanukkah decorations interspersed with the Christmas trees. I loved that we could celebrate our own traditions without having to put down other traditions - it wasn't a matter of putting anyone else own, but building everyone up together."
Medwed was also awed by the extra measures that the White House to ensure that everyone’s dietary needs were met in that they served only Glatt Kosher food.
Medwed spends most of his time working with an organization by the name of Sojourn which stands for The Southern Jewish Resource Network for Gender and Sexual Diversity. His field is Jewish education and communal outreach. He is also involved in politics at the local level in his home town.
Medwed received an invitation after his name was submitted by a co-worker earlier in the summer. He decided to stop off at the White House Hannukah party while traveling from Atlanta to New York for a Bat Mitzvah.
So how was Medwed so lucky to nab an invitation to the party? “I was a participant in Schusterman connection point program called 1822 which was a meeting of 60 Jewish LGBT leaders from around the world and the founder of the program submitted my name and some others. At least four of us from the program were picked to be in attendance.”
Medwed said that he enjoyed it, and that his trip north so far has been enjoyable.
He also wished the entire Jewish People a Happy Hannukah.