Friday, December 16, 2011
Chanukah in the White House
About five years ago, when we still lived in America and my husband was a synagogue rabbi with a prominent community profile, we were invited to attend the annual Chanukah celebration at the Governor's mansion in Annapolis. I remember it especially because it fell on the night of our wedding anniversary. We went to Annapolis and hobnobbed with politicians and leaders of the Jewish community and later, we enjoyed a more private celebration back in Baltimore.
At the Governor's mansion, where a large silver chanukiah was placed on a central table amidst Christmas decorations, kosher food was provided, in a separate room in the back, apart from the main celebration. And I remember thinking that the whole thing was farcical. Although Chanukah was the theme, it was an entirely politically motivated evening and I was not impressed. I felt as if the government appropriated a private family celebration, dressed it in politics and paraded it in front of the Jewish community to show how "tolerant" and "ecumenical" they were.
I hadn't thought of that experience until yesterday, when I read this article about how the White House kitchen was kashered for the White House Chanukah party.
watching the distinctly non-Jewish White House kitchen turn itself upside down, wrap itself up, and scour, boil and disinfect itself for a one-time event was to witness a hosting effort of astonishing generosity and thoughtfulness."
their guests by making the food kosher so those Jews who care about kashrut could eat comfortably!
together and for the impromptu joke Obama made about being happy to kiss and hug everyone there,"except for the rabbis with the whiskers." Savage took issue with the rabbis who acted like court Jews, falling all over themselves to prepare the kitchen and attend the celebration.
I posted the New York Times article to Facebook along with this comment:
Indeed, it hurts me to hear an Orthodox Jew make that kind of comment. It hurts me to see that some Jews think this sort of event is a good thing.
Why are there Chanukah parties at the White House or the Governor's mansion in the first place? Because America is a Christian country and there is a common perception is that Chanukah is the Jewish Christmas. So already, I'm uncomfortable because, as lovely as Chanukah is, it's hardly the most important holiday in the Jewish calendar as we observe it today. So Chanukah gets raised to a level of significance it doesn't truly have, davka because it's being celebrated in exile, surrounded by Christmas. These celebrations have little to do with the meaning of Chanukah and everything to do with politics.
This event struck me as particularly distasteful, given the hostility of the current administration to Israel. It reminds me of the status of Jews in Iran today. Ahmadinejad wants to wipe Israel off the map, but Iranian Jews are protected under Iran's constitution. Obama is often named the most anti-Israel president in US history, but American Jews can light the chanukiah and eat kosher latkes at his party.
From my perspective, the whole thing was nothing but a hollow PR event, farcical and vacuous. It gives me a stomach ache that so many Jews went along with it. Happily! Proudly! How polite and respectful of us they are! The feeling that some Jews sold out for a kosher latke hurts my soul.
But even more troubling than all this is the hostile feedback I get every time I mention something about the perspective of American Jews. I am often told, in a nutshell, "leave American Jews alone." Write about all the lovely little moments in Israel and stop judging us.
What I cannot seem to put across to some, no matter how often and in how many different ways I try, is how genuinely pessimistic I am about the future of the American Jewish community and the dangers that lurk there. It's a classic case of shooting the messenger.
Like at a simcha, I miss having the whole family together here in the Holy Land, enjoying who we are meant to be. I worry over those of my fellow Jews who clearly demonstrate, by their speech and their behavior, over and over again, that they are much, much too comfortable in galut. I fear that the price they will have to pay for that misguided loyalty will be great.
Who am I but a very simple Jew? If it hurts me so much that so many refuse to see what God has asked of us and repeatedly reject the chance to come Home and build up Am Yisrael in Eretz Yisrael, I dare not imagine how devastated Hashem must feel.
Posted by Rivkah Lambert Adler at 1:43 PM