President Joe Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris and their spouses held a “family” celebration of Hanukkah at the White House Wednesday, with the first Jewish spouse of a vice president, second gentleman Doug Emhoff, joining in lighting the menorah.
Speaking to more than 150 guests, including Jewish community leaders, Cabinet members, lawmakers and the new Israeli ambassador to the U.S., Michael Herzog, Biden sought to draw parallels between his presidency and the eight-day commemoration of the rededication of the temple in Jerusalem by the Maccabees.
“Whether it’s in the temple of Jerusalem or the temple of our democracy, nothing broken or profaned is beyond repair, nothing,” Biden said. “We can always build back better, perhaps build back brighter.”
Acknowledging his history-making role as he joined Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Jewish leaders to light the menorah marking the fourth night of Hanukkah, Emhoff said, “Jewish values are American values.”
The event provided the first taste of the administration’s pared-down holiday plans amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and the new threat of the omicron variant. The guests, all wearing masks, sat shoulder to shoulder in the East Room for the event, which did not include the customary reception of food and drink afterward.
Instead, guests were given individually decorated and wrapped cookies prepared by the White House kitchen to mark the holiday as they left the bedecked residence.
The menorah chosen for the occasion was the Liberty Bell menorah, designed by Holocaust survivor Manfred Anson. It is on loan to the White House from the National Museum of American Jewish History.