The White House's annual Hanukkah reception on Wednesday featured four menorahs that were flown in from Israel.
Each of the candelabras carried a message related to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Three of them highlighted Jewish-Arab coexistence organizations and one was from a group drawing attention to the impact of Hamas rockets on Israeli citizens.
President Barack Obama, with first lady Michelle Obama, speaks at a Hanukkah reception, Wednesday, Dec. 17, 2014, during the first of two Hanukkah receptions in the Grand Foyer of the White House in Washington. At far left is Inbar Vardi, with Mouran Ibrahim, students at the Max Rayne Hand in Hand Bilingual School in Jerusalem who helped light the candles for the second night of Hanukkah. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
One of the menorahs commissioned by the White House was made by students of the Max Rayne Hand in Hand Bilingual School in Jerusalem, a school that was targeted in an arson attack last month. Three Jewish men were indicted this week in Jerusalem for setting the fire.
The school was founded with the aim of bringing Jewish, Muslim and Christian children together into one academic environment where classes are held in both Hebrew and Arabic.
The White House asked two ninth-grade students from the school, Inbar Vardi, a Jewish girl, and Mouran Ibrahim, a Muslim girl, to light the menorah constructed by their fellow students.
“In the weeks that followed, they and their classmates could have succumbed to anger or cynicism, but instead they built this menorah, one of four that we brought here from Israel this year,” Obama said.
Each of the branches of the candelabra was painted with a word in Hebrew and Arabic, including dignity, equality and peace, representing the values of the school, Obama said.
“Inbar and Mouran and their fellow students teach us a critical lesson for this time in our history: The light of hope must outlast the fires of hate. That’s what the Hanukkah story teaches us,” the president said according to a White House transcript, adding, “That’s what our young people can teach us -- that one act of faith can make a miracle. That love is stronger than hate. That peace can triumph over conflict. And during this Festival of Lights, let’s commit ourselves to making some small miracles ourselves and then sharing them with the world.”
The second menorah was flown in from Givat Haviva, an organization that describes its mission as “advancing Jewish-Arab relations” and “highlighting pertinent social justice issues in the modern democratic state.”
The third menorah was made by children from the Hand in Hand Arab-Jewish school in Jaffa, Israel, according to a pool press report from the reception.
The fourth menorah, called the Sderot Menorah, was made by sculptor Yaron Bob, who lives in southern Israel and started the group “Rockets into Roses.”
Bob collects shards of Qassam rockets that Hamas and other terrorist groups launched from Gaza into Israel and uses them in his artwork.
Before the menorah was lit, Obama tied in the Hanukkah story to the present. From his remarks as posted on the White House website:
We’re here to celebrate a story that took place more than 2,000 years ago, when a small group of Maccabees rose up to defeat their far more powerful oppressors. In the face of overwhelming odds, they reclaimed their city and the right to worship as they chose. And in their victory, they found there wasn’t enough oil to keep the flame in their temple alive. But they lit the oil they had and, miraculously, the flame that was supposed to burn for just one night burned for eight. The Hanukkah story teaches us that our light can shine brighter than we could ever imagine with faith, and it’s up to us to provide that first spark.
TheBlaze spoke to two prominent Jewish activists who asked not to be named who were surprised the White House used the occasion of the Jewish holiday to convey messages about Israel that could be construed by some as political, particularly in light of the fact that Israel is currently gearing up for elections.
The president at the ceremony emphasized the "unbreakable" bonds between Israel and the U.S.
A Jerusalem court on Monday indicted three Jewish men who are accused of being active in an extremist group for the arson attack on the bilingual school.
The Jerusalem Post reported that the men chose the school, because they thought it had recently held a ceremony marking Yasser Arafat’s passing.
In response, the school told the Israeli newspaper Haaretz that it held no such ceremony.
Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat condemned the attack saying, “Pyromaniacs and those who disturb order cannot take the law into their own hands to disrupt the routine of our lives.”