Windows and Doors

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President Obama’s Hanukkah Message: What Do You Think?

posted by Brad Hirschfield

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?



  • kelly

    “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”
    When the hell has the Christian Right been persecuted by any means like the Jews were persecuted? For Bush to have made that analogy is an insult – But “it’s all about him” and his religion, isn’t it?
    At least Obama’s message is much more inclusive and speaks of religious tolerance. Those are much more patriotic sentiments since they are embraced in our Constitution.

  • Moshe Baruch

    US Presidents shouldn’t be lighting Christmas trees or menoras. The very act is an endorsement of religion by the Federal Government. Presidents should celebrate their holidays within their homes (and yes, that includes the White House)and places of worship and stop pandering to those that apparently need validation.

  • Zimriel

    Bush’s speech was closer to the historical circumstance. He is accurate in describing the Maccabean struggle as a reactionary movement against secularising, transnational, modern Hellenists.
    Obama’s speech was full of treacle, disassociated from history and therefore from the holiday.
    kelly, I think, sees in Bush a dark mirror of Judaism’s past – worse, suspects that the Rabbinic form of Judaism, with the Torah as we know it, would not have survived were it not for the reactionaries.

  • Mere_Me

    What is actually wrong with government endorsing a religion?
    Or condemning one?
    It seems quite a human right to me.

  • Harriet B

    Yes, both are beautiful. Can anyone remember and post the message of President Clinton?

  • Your Name

    The problem with a govenment endorsing a religion, Mere_Me, is that it creates an advantage, or the possibility of one, for that faith over others under the force of law. The Constitution of the United States, as I read it, works to make sure that there is no official state religion, nor one supported by the state over others as a matter of policy. Is it wrong for the President to light a tree, or participate in lighting a Hanukkah Menorah? Perhaps. I went to the Menorah lighting in DC once, but it was not on the White House property (it was pretty close). To me, that made a statement right there about one faith having a place of honor over another.

  • Ellen

    Yes, the separation of church and state is one of the major principles upon which the US government is founded. The government cannot endorse any one religion over another, for example. My problem with Christmas Tree and Menorah lighting by the President is that there is so much confusion these days that I believe emanates caused by these activities. If it’s OK for the government to light Christmas Trees or Menorahs, then isn’t it OK for the government to support “faith-based” initiatives and allowing government decisions, bills, and congressional votes to be influenced by religious lobbyists and “powers that be”? The lightings are only the smallest manifestation of the problem, IMHO.

  • Ed

    The trouble is the government already endorses a religion and holds it above all others. Just look at what are federal holidays.

  • Abbie Kenyon

    To those who knock those who excercise their first amendment right to practice one or more faith practices, how would you like those comments directed to you yourself? Presidents of the United States are also citizens of the United States, so let them be, as they are looking at a piece of the faith pie a little differently than you. Different perspectives make the world go ’round. Play the “Glad Game”, appreciate others and their opinions, without putting others down. This shows maturity when being with other people in person, on the computer, etc. As my mother would have said, “Behave, Do what is right, and Respect other people’s differences of opinion. Listening to other people shows respect for them.”wyjtz3

  • Yutema

    I am in agreement with Abbie, We have to embrace one another’s differences. I enjoyed Pres. Obama’s statement far more than Bush’s. Why, he spoke from the heart and not from a pre-scripted note pad, filled with historical writtings (by a press secretary)about our past, yet not fully relating with the real issue. We as a people know that the struggle is far from over. Stating the events but not the feelings or aspiration of a people is just a lot of words any child could have done the same thing and in fact when visiting several different schools I found they actually did.
    I would also like to see Clinton’s Chanukah statement

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