Windows and Doors

Here is the text of President Obama’s Hanukkah message. I share it along with the opening lines of President Bush’s comments to those who gathered at the 2005 White House Hanukkah party. It makes for a fascinating comparison and also a wonderful invitation into the many things we can celebrate about the holiday.
President Obama:

Michelle and I send our warmest wishes to all who are celebrating Hanukkah around the world. The Hanukkah story of the Maccabees and the miracles they witnessed reminds us that faith and perseverance are powerful forces that can sustain us in difficult times and help us overcome even the greatest odds.
Hanukkah is not only a time to celebrate the faith and customs of the Jewish people, but for people of all faiths to celebrate the common aspirations we share. As families, friends and neighbors gather together to kindle the lights, may Hanukkah’s lessons inspire us all to give thanks for the blessings we enjoy, to find light in times of darkness, and to work together for a brighter, more hopeful tomorrow.

President Bush:

Welcome to the White House.
Laura and I are glad you’re here and we’re glad to be here to celebrate the festival of Hanukkah. Hanukkah begins later this month. It’s a time to remember the story of a miracle once witnessed in the holy temple in Jerusalem.
More than 2,000 years ago, the ancient land of Israel was conquered. The Jewish people were forbidden to pray, observe their religious customs or study the Torah.
In response, a patriot named Judah Maccabee led a revolt against the enemy army. …

These two statements, each beautiful in its own way, reflect the essence of how two very different presidents, each of whom values faith, understands its role quite differently.
From President Obama, we get a Hanukkah which is really for all people, Jewish or not. It celebrates the move from darkness to light, a journey which all people want to take, and reminds us that our traditions are not ours alone, or at least they need not be.
From President Bush, we get a message which embraces the struggle faced by the Jewish people alone, even as it hints at the struggle against religious persecution felt by many Christians on the far right. It’s a message which celebrates religious practice, and the value of patriotism, both central to President Bush’s rhetoric and his life.
Frankly, I find myself moved by both messages and awaiting a president who can embrace them both simultaneously. Though I would settle for a world in which more Jews could do that.
What do you think?

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