JBuzz News May 1, 2013: No White House party? What’s a Jew to do during Jewish American Heritage Month

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No White House party? What’s a Jew to do during Jewish American Heritage Month

Source: Jewish Telegraphic Agency (blog), 5-1-13

May is Jewish American Heritage Month, a commemoration first recognized by President George W. Bush in 2006. Since then, hundreds of programs have taken place nationwide annually to honor the rich contributions of Jews to American culture and society….READ MORE

JBuzz News March 26, 2013: President Barack Obama hosts White House Seder dinner on first night of Passover

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President Obama hosts White House Seder dinner on first night of Passover

The first family planned to use a Seder plate given to First Lady Michelle Obama from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s wife, Sara.

Source: AP, 3-26-13

President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama held a Passover Seder dinner in the Old Family Dining Room of the White House on Monday for family, staff and friends.

Pete Souza/The White House

President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama held a Passover Seder dinner in the Old Family Dining Room of the White House on Monday for family, staff and friends.

President Barack Obama marked Monday night’s start of Passover with a private Seder at the White House.

Obama started the tradition as a presidential candidate in 2008 when he joined Jewish staffers celebrating on the campaign trail. He’s continued it every year since with a small group of aides and friends. He told Israelis during a visit last week he wanted the tradition at the White House so his daughters could experience it.

SEDER27N_2_WEB

Pete Souza/The White House

President Obama began hosting an annual Seder dinner for his Jewish staff when he was on the campaign trail in 2008….READ MORE

JBuzz Reviews April 5, 2012: Jonathan Safran Foer and Nathan Englander’s ‘New American Haggadah’

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Jonathan Safran Foer and Nathan Englander on their ‘New American Haggadah’

Source: The Takeaway, 4-5-12

The Haggadah, the Jewish religious text read at Passover, is 3,000 years old. It has been translated more than any Jewish book, from ancient times, to 14th-century Sarajevo, to the just-published “New American Haggadah.” The new version, edited by Jonathan Safran Foer and translated by Nathan Englander, began as a personal project for Jonathan. He started to realize how little he truly understood about his own belief system, and that many American Jews feel like immigrants to their own religion. “I went to Hebrew school, I was bar mitzvah’d, I’ve been to Israel a number of times, but as I started to work on this book, I realized that I really had to confront my ignorance, my lack of Jewish literacy.”

Nine years after the project began, Jonathan Safran Foer and Nathan Englander have constructed a new Haggadah, religious, yet modern, for the American Jews of their generation.

Produced by:

Jillian Weinberger

Opinion

Why a Haggadah?

Oded Ezer, from “The New American Haggadah” (Little, Brown and Company, 2012)
By JONATHAN SAFRAN FOER

Source: NYT, 4-1-12

I SPENT much of the last several years working on a new Haggadah — the guidebook for the prayers, rituals and songs of the Seder — and am often asked why I would want to take time away from my own writing to invest myself in such a project.

All my life, my parents have hosted the Seder on the first night of Passover. As our family expanded, and as our definition of family expanded, we moved the ritual dinner from our dining room to our more spacious, mildewed basement. One table became many table-like surfaces pushed awkwardly together. I always knew Passover was approaching when my father would ask me to take the net off the ping-pong table. All were covered in once matching, stained tablecloths.

At each setting was a Haggadah that my parents had assembled by photocopying favorite passages from other Haggadot and, when the Foers finally got Internet access, by printing online sources. Why is this night different from all others? Because on this night copyright doesn’t apply.

In the absence of a stable homeland, Jews have made their home in books, and the Haggadah — whose core is the retelling of the Exodus from Egypt — has been translated more widely, and revised more often, than any other Jewish book. Everywhere Jews have wandered, there have been Haggadot — from the 14th-century Sarajevo Haggadah (which is said to have survived World War II under the floorboards of a mosque, and the siege of Sarajevo in a bank vault), to those made by Ethiopian Jews airlifted to Israel during Operation Moses.

But of the 7,000 known versions, not to mention the countless homemade editions, there is one that is used more than all others combined. Since 1932, the Maxwell House Haggadah — as in the coffee company — has dominated American Jewish ritual….READ MORE

Jonathan Safran Foer is a novelist and editor of “New American Haggadah.”

A version of this op-ed appeared in print on April 1, 2012, on page SR10 of the New York edition with the headline: Why a Haggadah?.

Two Novelists Take on the Haggadah

Chester Higgins Jr./The New York Times

Nathan Englander, left, translated the liturgical text for the “New American Haggadah,” which Jonathan Safran Foer edited. Four writers contributed commentary.

Source: NYT, 3-9-12

AFTER a lengthy interview with President Obama in the Oval Office two weeks ago, Jeffrey Goldberg, a national correspondent for the Atlantic, had one more question, and it had nothing to do with Iran.

Related

Jake Guevara/The New York Times

The new version of the text for the Seder liturgy.

The latest version courtesy of Maxwell House.

“I know this is cheesy …” Mr. Goldberg started, but before he could finish, the president interrupted him. “What, you have a book?” Mr. Obama asked. Turns out, Mr. Goldberg did, but “it’s not just any book,” he replied.

Mr. Goldberg reached into his briefcase and handed the president an advance copy of the “New American Haggadah,” a new translation of the Passover liturgy that was edited by Jonathan Safran Foer and contains commentary by Mr. Goldberg and other contemporary writers.

After thumbing through the sleek hardcover book, Mr. Obama looked up and asked wryly, “Does this mean that we can’t use the Maxwell House Haggadah anymore?”

Mr. Goldberg was impressed. “Way to deploy the inside-Jewish joke,” he later said. Since the 1930s, Maxwell House has printed more than 50 millions copies of its pamphlet-style version of the Haggadah. It has been the go-to choice at the Obamas’ White House Seders, though Mr. Goldberg hoped the president would consider using their version this time around.

In the end, the White House decided to stick with the Maxwell House next month. But the book’s advance buzz is an unlikely triumph for a version of a ritualistic text that was spearheaded by two lauded experimental novelists from Brooklyn, Mr. Foer and Nathan Englander.

“The Haggadah is the user’s manual for the most widely celebrated Jewish holiday, Passover, ” Mr. Foer said on “The Colbert Report” last Tuesday. “It’s one of the oldest continually told stories, and one of the most well-known across cultures.”…

One might assume that Mr. Foer’s version would end up being almost unrecognizably postmodern. A critical darling since his mid-20s, Mr. Foer, 35, has been celebrated and excoriated for his use of avant-garde literary devices in novels like “Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close,” which ends with a 14-page flip book.

And starting out, that was the direction in which its creators were leaning. As Mr. Englander, who grew up in an Orthodox house on Long Island, put it, “I originally thought we’d be making some sort of hipster Haggadah.”

Indeed. The book’s minimalist design, by Oded Ezer, looks like a catalog for a MoMA typography exhibition, and the text is rendered both vertically (for the Exodus story) and horizontally (for commentary and a timeline). In place of storybook illustrations of Moses are abstract watercolor illustrations based on Hebrew typography.

The idea was to draw readers into the story and invite them to linger, since “the Haggadah must be the most skimmed book of all,” Mr. Foer said. After a pause, he added, “maybe Stephen Hawking’s ‘Brief History of Time’ beats it.”…READ MORE

A version of this article appeared in print on March 11, 2012, on page ST10 of the New York edition with the headline: Two Novelists Take On the Haggadah.

JBuzz March 23, 2012: Yosef Hayim Yerushalmi: Haggadah and History — Historical Passover Haggadahs

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Long before the Maxwell House Haggadah, thousands of other versions retold Passover story

Source: JointMedia News Service, 3-23-12

<br /> A page reprinted from a Cairo volume Agudat Perahim (1922) which also includes the Passover haggadah. This illustration depicts an Arabic translation of the festive song &ldquo;Dayenu.&rdquo;<br /> Photo reprinted from “Haggadah and History” by Yosef Hayim Yerushalmi, JewishPublication Society of America, 1975.

A page reprinted from a Cairo volume Agudat Perahim (1922) which also includes the Passover haggadah. This illustration depicts an Arabic translation of the festive song “Dayenu.” Photo reprinted from “Haggadah and History” by Yosef Hayim Yerushalmi, Jewish Publication Society of America, 1975. For the past three years, President Obama and his family have hosted a Passover Seder in the White House for a select group of invited guests, both Jewish and non-Jewish. A Maxwell House haggadah — probably the most widely used Passover Seder text among American Jews — was placed at each table.

The haggadah (the Hebrew word means “telling”) has a venerable and remarkably varied history, which long precedes the often wine-splotched classic published by the coffee maker. Scholars have identified more than 3500 extant editions and there is hardly a Jewish community in the world that has not produced its own haggadah. Although the earliest manuscripts have been lost, the oldest complete text was found in a prayer book compiled by the philosopher and rabbinic scholar Saadia Gaon during the 10th century.

The haggadah reportedly emerged as an independent volume during the 15th century. Some scholars speculated about the origins of an edition that was published in Guadalajara, Spain, in 1482, but the publication location has never been confirmed nor has it been definitively established as the first separately-published haggadah.

In 1486, the Soncinos, a noted Italian Jewish family of printers, published a siddur to which a haggadah was bound. Although it is not known whether such binding was common during this time, some historians consider this Soncino volume a separate and independent work.

The history of haggadahs and the Soncino edition is recounted in an erudite and elegant 1975 volume entitled Haggadah and History.

Written by the late Harvard professor Yosef Hayim Yerushalmi, this work traces the evolution of this classic Passover text, which reflects the variegated and tumultuous history of the Jewish people.

Most of this nearly 500-page work contains reprinted haggadah pages from around the world. The range of publishing locations and languages employed is remarkable: a Poona, India, text was published in the Indian language Marathi; the Istanbul, Turkey, edition is bilingual, written in Ladino and Hebrew; a Tel Aviv haggadah in Hebrew was produced in pre-state Palestine.

Also depicted is an unusual item: a parody of the haggadah. Published in Odessa, Russia, in 1885, this text used the Four Questions to highlight the poor pay and treatment of east European elementary school teachers, comparing their plight to that of Israelite slaves in Egypt!

Yerushalmi notes that only 25 haggadahs were published during the 16th century, but the production increased to 234 in the 18th century and more than 1200 during the 19th.

Although this Passover text has been published for more than 600 years, the majority of individual editions were issued in the last century. Early haggadahs featured handdrawn illustrations and in more recent times, pictures were inserted to stimulate the “curiosity of the children…[and served] as a lively medium of visual instruction, much like today’s picture books,” Yerushalmi writes.

The Sarajevo haggadah is the most famous such work, a beautifully illustrated text originating in Barcelona in the 14th century, smuggled out of Spain during the Inquisition, transported to Italy and eventually ending up in the former Yugoslavia. Unlike many Jews, the Sarajevo haggadah somehow survived the Nazi onslaught. The remarkable story of its survival has been evocatively told in the novel People of the Book, by Geraldine Brooks, and in a network television documentary.

The Birds’ Head Haggadah, the oldest surviving Ashkenazi illuminated manuscript, was produced in Germany during the 14th century. This strikingly beautiful volume derives its name from the birdlike human figures depicted in the margins. Scholars claim that this animal motif is related to the Second Commandment that prohibits the creation of graven images. In lieu of drawing a human figure, the volume depicts distorted heads of birds, often wearing a headpiece and other garments.

The Sarajevo Haggadah is permanently displayed in the National Museum of Bosnia and Herzegovina while the Birds’ Head Haggadah is found in the Israel Museum. Unlike the ever present and dependable Maxwell House haggadah found at many Seders, these precious volumes are securely spared from matzoh crumbs, spilled wine and drippings of horseradish.

Menorahs lighted in New York, nation’s capital

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Menorahs lighted in New York, nation’s capital

New Yorkers light a massive menorah in Manhattan on Tuesday to mark the beginning of Hanukkah.
New Yorkers light a massive menorah in Manhattan on Tuesday to mark the beginning of Hanukkah.

STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • The world’s largest menorah is lighted in New York
  • The nine-branched candelabra is 32 feet tall, 28 feet wide and weighs 4,000 pounds
  • A menorah also is lighted in Washington
  • The White House menorah lighting dates to 1979 with President Jimmy Carter

From big balloons at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade to a big Christmas tree at Manhattan’s Rockefeller Center, the Big Apple is known for going big around the holidays. And on Tuesday, the first night of the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah, New Yorkers went big again, lighting a massive menorah outside the south side of Central Park.

The nine-branched candelabra is 32 feet tall, 28 feet wide, weighs 4,000 pounds, and is considered the world’s biggest, according to the Guinness Book of World Records.

Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman, director of the city’s Lubavitch Youth Organization, said the gold-colored steel structure is equipped with oil lamps and has special glass chimneys to protect the flames from wind.

The Brooklyn-based group has coordinated the lighting ceremony since it began in 1977, then coinciding with the administration of Abraham David Beam, the first Jewish mayor of New York City.

The massive structure was designed by renowned Jewish artist Yaacov Agam, according to Butman.

During the celebration, one candle is lighted the first night, and an additional candle is lighted each subsequent night for eight nights, earning Hanukkah the name “The Festival of Lights.”

“The menorah is a symbol of inspiration not only for the Jewish people, but all people, regardless of race, color or creed,” Butman said.

In the nation’s capital, a special lighting ceremony near the White House also marked the start of the holiday.

“Tonight, as families and friends come together to light the menorah, it is a story that reminds us to count our blessings, to honor the sacrifices of our ancestors,” President Barack Obama said in a statement. “To believe that through faith and determination, we can work together to build a brighter, better world for generations to come.”

The White House menorah lighting dates to 1979 with President Jimmy Carter.

National Menorah to be lit near White House for 1st night of Hanukkah

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National Menorah to be lit near White House for 1st night of Hanukkah

Source: AP, 12-20-11

https://i2.wp.com/i.usatoday.net/yourlife/_photos/2011/12/15/Hanukkah-celebrates-tradition-C6NAUJT-x.jpgA special lighting ceremony is planned for the National Hanukkah Menorah near the White House on the first night of the eight-day Jewish holiday.

On Tuesday, Office of Management and Budget Director Jacob Lew will be a special guest to help light the menorah on the Ellipse. The lighting is scheduled for 4 p.m. Organizers say thousands of people are scheduled to attend. “The President’s Own” U.S. Marine Band will perform.

The national menorah lighting dates to 1979 when President Jimmy Carter. President Ronald Reagan dubbed it the “National Menorah.”

Online:  http://www.nationalmenorah.org/

 

White House Hanukkah Reception: Overnight Makeover for a Kosher First Kitchen

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Overnight Makeover for a Kosher First Kitchen

Source: NYT, 12-13-11

Brendan Smialowski for The New York Times

Rabbi Levi Shemtov oversees a team, including Tommy Kurpradit, second from left, the White House executive sous-chef, in koshering the kitchen for a party.

Multimedia
Brendan Smialowski for The New York Times

Gavriel Steinmetz, a rabbinical intern, with koshered flatware.

FIRST, spritz the kitchen’s stainless steel counters with disinfectant. Scrub vigorously.

Next, wrap counters in tinfoil, tight, tight, tight.

Now stretch plastic wrap over the foil and seal with masking tape.

Then repeat for every surface that could possibly come into contact with food — yes, even the hanging pot rack.

And so began the fastidious frenzy to make the White House’s kitchen kosher last week, a nearly four-hour drill that started at 10 p.m. Wednesday. A deadline approached: a truckload of kosher food was due Thursday at 10 a.m.

The Obama administration’s holiday reception season was in full swing. Leftovers from a party earlier Wednesday evening had already been removed.

The following night would bring the Hanukkah party for 550 guests, politicians and Supreme Court justices among them. Rigorous koshering (sometimes called kashering) would ensure that the kitchen would be in compliance with Jewish dietary laws. Guests could eat without qualms, knowing their religious commitment had been respected….READ MORE

Tevi Troy: The White House’s Advice for Your Rabbi

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President presses: Preach politics from the pulpit

Source: WSJ, 9-23-11

The Jewish High Holidays are upon us, so naturally it’s time for the White House to feed political talking points to rabbis.

As has become its annual practice, the Obama administration on Thursday convened a conference call with several hundred rabbis and Jewish leaders. According to a participant on the call, President Obama promoted his jobs bill—noting that those who have been more blessed should pay their fair share—and briefed the rabbis on U.S. efforts to counter the push for a declaration of Palestinian statehood at the United Nations.

I was on another such call recently, the purpose of which—according to the Jewish rabbinical group that invited me—was to help listeners “understand the current state of the economy; learn about the impact of the proposed budget cuts on the poor and disenfranchised; consider the consequences of the increasing gap between the rich and poor in America; and, glean homiletic and textual background to help prepare their High Holiday sermons on this timely topic.”

The agenda of the call organizers was clear. Two speakers, one of whom was a (non-Jewish) Democratic senator, spoke of our country’s need for “raising revenue,” the new code phrase for tax increases. When I suggested that we separate politics from spirituality, a third participant pushed back, saying “the Torah is a political document.” A curious assertion in a crowd that would quickly denounce any invocation of the Bible in political discussions.

Of course the Obama administration didn’t invent the politicized sermon. In the Conservative temple in which I was raised, the joke (not an original one) was that the rabbi would take homiletic guidance from the New York Times editorial page. In his memoir, former Nixon speechwriter William Safire told of his displeasure with a Yom Kippur sermon in which the rabbi warned “not to let our country be divided and polarized by those who use the technique of alliteration”—referring to Vice President Spiro Agnew’s critique of “nattering nabobs of negativism.”

Related Video

Tevi Troy on political sermonizing in synagogues.

So President Obama is taking advantage of an existing proclivity toward political sermonizing. Other presidents have acted similarly, hosting calls around holidays or meeting with Jewish leaders before the White House Hanukkah party, as George W. Bush did. But Mr. Obama has innovated, as by focusing on a specific issue or two with rabbis before the High Holidays each year.

In 2010, according to the New York Post, he “asked a conference call of about 600 rabbis to preach his Mideast peace plan from the pulpit.” In 2009, he invited a group of 1,000 rabbis to discuss his health-care plan and then preach about it afterward. Some certainly delivered. Rabbi Amy Schwartzman of Temple Rodef Shalom in Falls Church, Va., for example, gave a Yom Kippur sermon that year entitled “The Jewish Understanding of Health Care: A Moral Imperative,” declaring that “working towards health care for all, however that might be accomplished, is a Jewish mandate.”

Political sermonizing is a mistake for many reasons. First, the Holy Days are supposed to bring forth a universal message about the unity of the Jewish people, the importance of our shared religious tradition, and the need to rededicate ourselves to observance of the Torah in the year to come.

Then there’s the risk of alienating part of the congregation. Even if you know that 70%-80% of your synagogue votes one way—and public opinion polls suggest that this may be the case in Conservative and Reform synagogues—why risk alienating the other 20%-30%? In many (or most) communities, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are the only time certain congregants set foot in synagogue that year. Why risk driving them away with a message that could offend?

Furthermore, while it may appear easy to find support for left-wing political positions in the Torah and rabbinical sources, the truth is that the Jewish tradition doesn’t give much guidance on the optimum level of marginal tax rates, Medicare restructuring, or food-stamp funding. To claim otherwise is to give false guidance.

The passages read aloud on the High Holidays each year are filled with the most important problems of the human condition, including Jonah’s attempt to shirk his responsibilities, Hannah’s desperate plea for a child, and God’s testing of Abraham’s faith with the binding of Isaac. All of these stories still resonate today, and skillful speakers can use them to guide congregants.

The mandate of religious leaders is to convey to their communities spiritual encouragement and the wisdom of the ages. For the other stuff, there’s cable news.

Mr. Troy, a senior fellow at Hudson Institute and former deputy secretary of health and human services, was a White House Jewish liaison under George W. Bush.

White House Initiative “If You See Something, Say Something” Campaign Partners with Jewish Community

Today Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano, Jon Carson, Director of the White House Office of Public Engagement, and I met with Jewish leaders from across the country to highlight the important role of faith-based leaders in providing guidance and assistance to their organizations and institutions regarding ways to protect against terrorism and other threats.

Janet Napolitano at Meeting with Jewish LeadersSecretary Janet Napolitano and Director of the Office of Public Engagement Jon Carson meet with Jewish leaders on the “When You See Something, Say Something” campaign’s first faith-based partnership in the Rooselvelt Room of the White House, June 10, 2011. (DHS Photo by Barry Bahler)

Secretary Napolitano announced the expansion of the Department of Homeland Security’s “If You See Something, Say Something™” public awareness campaign into a partnership with the Jewish Federations of North American (JFNA) and theSecure Community Network (SCN). “Expanding the ‘If You See Something, Say Something™’ campaign to national Jewish groups, the first faith-based partnership for the campaign, is an important step in the Department’s ongoing effort to engage the American public in our nation’s security efforts,” said Secretary Napolitano.

The campaign will feature print and social media materials distributed to the thousands of centers and organizations that the associations reach. SCN, an organization that was established to institutionalize security awareness and preparedness into the consciousness of the American Jewish community, provides the Jewish community with important, timely, and credible communications, consultations, and training sessions. JFNA, an organization that represents 157 Jewish Federations and over 300 Network communities, protects and enhances the well-being of Jews worldwide through the values of tikkun olam (repairing the world), tzedakah (charity and social justice) and Torah (Jewish learning).

Jerry Silverman, President and CEO of The Jewish Federations of North America, praised the partnership as one that “will empower us to counter this threat as we become more actively involved in our own protection.”

Full Text: US President Barack Obama & Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu Joint Press Conference

Remarks by President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu of Israel After Bilateral Meeting

President Barack Obama meets with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel, in the Oval Office, May 20, 2011. (by Pete Souza)

Oval Office

1:35 P.M. EDT

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  Well, let me, first of all, welcome again Prime Minister Netanyahu, who I think has now been here seven times during the course of my presidency.  And I want to indicate that the frequency of these meetings is an indication of the extraordinary bonds between our two countries, as is the opportunity for the Prime Minister to address Congress during his visit here.  I know that’s an honor that’s reserved for those who have always shown themselves to be a great friend of the United States and is indicative of the friendship between our countries.

We just completed a prolonged and extremely useful conversation touching on a wide range of issues.  We discussed, first of all, the changes that are sweeping the region and what has been happening in places like Egypt and Syria and how they affect the interests and security of the United States and Israel, as well as the opportunity for prosperity, growth and development in the Arab world.

We agreed that there is a moment of opportunity that can be seized as a consequence of the Arab Spring, but also acknowledge that there’s significant perils as well, and that it’s going to be important for the United States and Israel to consult closely as we see developments unfold.

I outlined for the Prime Minister some of the issues that I discussed in my speech yesterday — how important it was going to be for the United States to support political reform, support human rights, support freedom of speech, religious tolerance and economic development, particularly in Egypt, as the largest Arab country, as well as Tunisia, the country that first started this revolutionary movement that’s taking place throughout the Middle East and North Africa.

We also discussed the situation in Syria, which is obviously of acute concern to Israel, given its shared border.  And I gave more details to the Prime Minister about the significant steps that we are taking to try to pressure Syria and the Assad regime to reform, including the sanctions that we placed directly on President Assad.

We continue to share our deep concerns about Iran, not only the threat that it poses to Israel but also the threat that it poses to the region and the world if it were to develop a nuclear weapon.  We updated our strategy to continue to apply pressure, both through sanctions and our other diplomatic work.  And I reiterated my belief that it is unacceptable for Iran to possess a nuclear weapon.

We also discussed the hypocrisy of Iran suggesting that it somehow supports democratization in the Middle East when, in fact, they first showed the repressive nature of that regime when they responded to the own peaceful protests that took place inside Iran almost two years ago.

Finally, we discussed the issue of a prospective peace between Israelis and Palestinians.  And I reiterated and we discussed in depth the principles that I laid out yesterday — the belief that our ultimate goal has to be a secure Israeli state, a Jewish state, living side by side in peace and security with a contiguous, functioning and effective Palestinian state.

Obviously there are some differences between us in the precise formulations and language, and that’s going to happen between friends.  But what we are in complete accord about is that a true peace can only occur if the ultimate resolution allows Israel to defend itself against threats, and that Israel’s security will remain paramount in U.S. evaluations of any prospective peace deal.

I said that yesterday in the speech, and I continue to believe it.  And I think that it is possible for us to shape a deal that allows Israel to secure itself, not to be vulnerable, but also allows it to resolve what has obviously been a wrenching issue for both peoples for decades now.

I also pointed out, as I said in the speech yesterday, that it is very difficult for Israel to be expected to negotiate in a serious way with a party that refuses to acknowledge its right to exist.  And so for that reason I think the Palestinians are going to have to answer some very difficult questions about this agreement that’s been made between Fatah and Hamas.  Hamas has been and is an organization that has resorted to terror; that has refused to acknowledge Israel’s rights to exist.  It is not a partner for a significant, realistic peace process.  And so, as I said yesterday during the speech, the Palestinians are going to have to explain how they can credibly engage in serious peace negotiations in the absence of observing the Quartet principles that have been put forward previously.

So, overall, I thought this was an extremely constructive discussion.  And coming out of this discussion, I once again can reaffirm that the extraordinarily close relationship between the United States and Israel is sound and will continue, and that together, hopefully we are going to be able to work to usher in a new period of peace and prosperity in a region that is going to be going through some very profound transformations in the coming weeks, months and years.

So, Mr. Prime Minister.

PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU:  Thank you, Mr. President.

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  Thank you very much.

PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU:  Mr. President, first I want to thank you and the First Lady for the gracious hospitality that you’ve shown me, my wife, and our entire delegation.  We have an enduring bond of friendship between our two countries, and I appreciate the opportunity to have this meeting with you after your important speech yesterday.

We share your hope and your vision for the spread of democracy in the Middle East.  I appreciate the fact that you reaffirmed once again now, and in our conversation, and in actual deed the commitment to Israel’s security.  We value your efforts to advance the peace process.

This is something that we want to have accomplished.  Israel wants peace.  I want peace.  What we all want is a peace that will be genuine, that will hold, that will endure.  And I think that the — we both agree that a peace based on illusions will crash eventually on the rocks of Middle Eastern reality, and that the only peace that will endure is one that is based on reality, on unshakeable facts.

I think for there to be peace, the Palestinians will have to accept some basic realities.  The first is that while Israel is prepared to make generous compromises for peace, it cannot go back to the 1967 lines — because these lines are indefensible; because they don’t take into account certain changes that have taken place on the ground, demographic changes that have taken place over the last 44 years.

Remember that, before 1967, Israel was all of nine miles wide.  It was half the width of the Washington Beltway.  And these were not the boundaries of peace; they were the boundaries of repeated wars, because the attack on Israel was so attractive.

So we can’t go back to those indefensible lines, and we’re going to have to have a long-term military presence along the Jordan.  I discussed this with the President and I think that we understand that Israel has certain security requirements that will have to come into place in any deal that we make.

The second is — echoes something the President just said, and that is that Israel cannot negotiate with a Palestinian government that is backed by Hamas.  Hamas, as the President said, is a terrorist organization committed to Israel’s destruction.  It’s fired thousands of rockets on our cities, on our children.  It’s recently fired an anti-tank rocket at a yellow school bus, killing a 16-year-old boy.  And Hamas has just attacked you, Mr. President, and the United States for ridding the world of bin Laden.

So Israel obviously cannot be asked to negotiate with a government that is backed by the Palestinian version of al Qaeda.

I think President Abbas has a simple choice.  He has to decide if he negotiates or keeps his pact with Hamas, or makes peace with Israel.  And I can only express what I said to you just now, that I hope he makes the choice, the right choice, in choosing peace with Israel.

The third reality is that the Palestinian refugee problem will have to be resolved in the context of a Palestinian state, but certainly not in the borders of Israel.

The Arab attack in 1948 on Israel resulted in two refugee problems — Palestinian refugee problem and Jewish refugees, roughly the same number, who were expelled from Arab lands.  Now, tiny Israel absorbed the Jewish refugees, but the vast Arab world refused to absorb the Palestinian refugees.  Now, 63 years later, the Palestinians come to us and they say to Israel, accept the grandchildren, really, and the great grandchildren of these refugees, thereby wiping out Israel’s future as a Jewish state.

So it’s not going to happen.  Everybody knows it’s not going to happen.  And I think it’s time to tell the Palestinians forthrightly it’s not going to happen.  The Palestinian refugee problem has to be resolved.  It can be resolved, and it will be resolved if the Palestinians choose to do so in a Palestinian state.  So that’s a real possibility.  But it’s not going to be resolved within the Jewish state.

The President and I discussed all these issues and I think we may have differences here and there, but I think there’s an overall direction that we wish to work together to pursue a real, genuine peace between Israel and its Palestinian neighbors; a peace that is defensible.

Mr. President, you’re the — you’re the leader of a great people, the American people.  And I’m the leader of a much smaller people, the —

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  A great people.

PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU:  It’s a great people, too.  It’s the ancient nation of Israel.  And, you know, we’ve been around for almost 4,000 years.  We’ve experienced struggle and suffering like no other people.  We’ve gone through expulsions and pogroms and massacres and the murder of millions.  But I can say that even at the dearth of — even at the nadir of the valley of death, we never lost hope and we never lost our dream of reestablishing a sovereign state in our ancient homeland, the land of Israel.

And now it falls on my shoulders as the Prime Minister of Israel, at a time of extraordinary instability and uncertainty in the Middle East, to work with you to fashion a peace that will ensure Israel’s security and will not jeopardize its survival.  I take this responsibility with pride but with great humility, because, as I told you in our conversation, we don’t have a lot of margin for error.  And because, Mr. President, history will not give the Jewish people another chance.

So in the coming days and weeks and months, I intend to work with you to seek a peace that will address our security concerns, seek a genuine recognition that we wish from our Palestinian neighbors to give a better future for Israel and for the entire region.

And I thank you for the opportunity to exchange our views and to work together for this common end.  Thank you, Mr. President.

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  Thank you.

END 1:51 P.M. EDT

President Obama & Prime Minister Netanyahu: “The Common Goal is Peace”

Watch the entire press conference below:

JBuzz: Hanukkah Special, Party at the Obama White House

https://jbuzz.files.wordpress.com/2010/12/jbuzzheader.jpg

By Bonnie K. Goodman

Ms. Goodman is the Editor of JBuzz. She has a BA in History & Art History & a Masters in Library and Information Studies from McGill University, and has done graduate work in Judaic Studies at Concordia University.

Menorah Lighting

Ben Retik lights the Menorah as President Barack Obama, Vice President Joe Biden and First Lady Michelle Obama take part in the Hanukkah Candle Lighting ceremony in the East Room of the White House, Dec. 2, 2010 (Official White House Photo by Chuck Kennedy)

HANUKKAH 2010

IN FOCUS

  • The first night of Chanukah at the National Menorah Washington, DCLubavitch.com
  • The Festival of Lights: Hanukkah Stories From Across the Nation – PBS Newshour, 12-3-10

THE HEADLINES….

  • White House hosts Hanukkah party: President Obama, first lady Michelle Obama and Vice President Joe Biden hosted a party Thursday marking the second day of the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah. Obama offered condolences to those who have died in a forest fire in northern Israel before recounting the story of the Maccabees fighting in the Temple in Jersualem watching a day’s worth of oil burn for eight.
    “That miracle gave hope to all those who had been struggling in despair,” Obama said. “As the Talmud teaches us, so long as a person has life, he should not abandon faith.”
    Among those attending was Office of Management and Budget Director Jacob Lew, who replied, “we’re still talking,” when asked about the status of tax-cut legislation. When asked what night of Hanukkah a deal would be reached, Lew replied: “Aren’t we lucky to have a whole week?”
    The party featured a menorah from Congregation Beth Israel in New Orleans, which was found caked in dirt and mold after Hurricane Katrina in 2005, Obama said. Its candles were lit by Susan Retik, whose husband died in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and her family…. – Politico, 12-3-10
  • President Obama’s Hanukkah Celebration: The President and First Lady hosted a little gathering Thursday night in the East Room to celebrate Hanukkah. Included on the list of 500 guests, one-third of the Supreme Court justices- Breyer, Ginsburg, and Kagan. Several Jewish members of Congress and other elected officials and members of the military were there too. The menorah for the event was loaned to the White House by New Orleans’s Congregation Beth Israel. It was one of very few items to survive Hurricane Katrina. It was found by cleanup crews in horrible condition but was restored and re-lit for the first time three years ago…. – CNN, 12-3-10
  • Menorah retrieved from Hurricane Katrina muck in Lakeview is part of White House Hanukkah celebration: Hanukkah celebrates the miracle of Jewish survival, and on Thursday, President Barack Obama and some 500 notables, mostly Jewish, celebrated the second of the holiday’s eight nights by lighting a menorah fished from the muck of Congregation Beth Israel’s flooded synagogue in Lakeview after Hurricane Katrina.
    Describing the Hanukkah candles as tiny reminders of “the importance of faith and perseverance,” the president told the festive assemblage in the East Room that “the menorah we’re using tonight, and the family who is going to help us light it, both stand as powerful symbols of that faith.” “This beautiful menorah has been generously loaned to us by Congregation Beth Israel in New Orleans,” Obama said. “Five years ago, when Hurricane Katrina hit, the synagogue was covered in eight feet of water. Later, as the cleanup crew dug through the rubble, they discovered this menorah, caked in dirt and mold. And today it stands as a reminder of the tragedy and a source of inspiration for the future.”… – The candles were lit by Susan Retik and her family…. – Times-Picayune, 12-2-10
  • White House Hanukkah ceremony features menorah salvaged from Lakeview: President Barack Obama and dozens of guests tonight will celebrate the second night of Hanukkah by lighting a menorah fished from the muck of Congregation Beth Israel’s flooded synagogue in Lakeview. But for a few bits of ornamental silver that once decorated its ruined Torahs, the blackened menorah was the only sacred object in ritual use the congregation was able to save, said Rabbi Uri Topolosky, who will attend the ceremony with his wife, Dahlia.
    At Beth Israel, the restored menorah has become precious — the sign of their own ordeal and recovery, Topolosky said. The congregation also saved a display menorah, now at the Presbytere, Topolosky said. But the 53-year-old restored menorah at the White House — technically, it is a nine-branched “hanukiah” — is the one the congregation uses to commemorate ancient Jews’ recovery and reconsecration of their temple in Jerusalem…. – NOLA, 12-2-10
  • Gov. Schwarzenegger Joins Chanukah Celebration at Capitol Menorah Lighting Ceremony: Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and local leaders of the Jewish community today joined Chabad of Sacramento to celebrate Chanukah at the 17th Annual Capitol Menorah Lighting Ceremony.
    “The message of Chanukah is ‘light’ and is about optimism and hope, even in the face of darkness and crisis. That is especially meaningful to me because I am a big believer in the spirit of optimism and hope,” said Governor Schwarzenegger. “We all know there is darkness in the world, especially in these challenging times, but one tiny candle can light a room, and one act of kindness can change a life. It is so important that we reach out and help each other through these tough times.”
    This year, guests at the Capitol Menorah Lighting Ceremony participated in a “reverse toy drive.” The Governor joined West Coast Chabad Director Rabbi Shlomo Cunin in passing the gifts out for the toy drive during today’s ceremony. Chabad has asked guests of the ceremony to present these gifts to children in need…. – Lubavitch, 12-3-10

QUOTES

  • President Obama Hosts A Hanukkah Celebration at the White House: Remarks by the President at a Hanukkah Reception:
    Now, tonight, we gather to celebrate a story as simple as it is timeless. It’s a story of ancient Israel, suffering under the yoke of empire, where Jews were forbidden to practice their religion openly, and the Holy Temple — including the holy of holies — had been desecrated.
    It was then that a small band of believers, led by Judah Maccabee, rose up to take back their city and free their people. And when the Maccabees entered the temple, the oil that should have lasted for a single night ended up burning for eight.
    That miracle gave hope to all those who had been struggling in despair. And in the 2,000 years since, in every corner of the world, the tiny candles of Hanukkah have reminded us of the importance of faith and perseverance. They have illuminated a path for us when the way forward was shrouded in darkness.
    And as we prepare to light another candle on the menorah, let us remember the sacrifices that others have made so that we may all be free. Let us pray for the members of our military who guard that freedom every day, and who may be spending this holiday far away from home.
    Let us also think of those for whom these candles represent not just a triumph of the past, but also hope for the future — the men, women and children of all faiths who still suffer under tyranny and oppression.
    That’s why families everywhere are taught to place the menorah in public view, so the entire world can see its light. Because, as the Talmud teaches us, “So long as a person still has life, they should never abandon faith.”
    This beautiful menorah has been generously loaned to us by Congregation Beth Israel in New Orleans. Five years ago, when Hurricane Katrina hit, the synagogue was covered in eight feet of water. Later, as the cleanup crew dug through the rubble, they discovered this menorah, caked in dirt and mold. And today it stands as a reminder of the tragedy and a source of inspiration for the future.
    And that feeling is shared by Susan Retik. It’s a feeling they know all too well. After her husband, David, was killed on September 11th, Susan could have easily lost herself in feelings of hopelessness and grief. But instead, she turned her personal loss into a humanitarian mission — co-founding “Beyond the 11th,” a group that reaches out to Afghan widows facing their own struggles.
    So on this second night of Hanukkah, let us give thanks to the blessings that all of us enjoy. Let us be mindful of those who need our prayers. And let us draw strength from the words of a great philosopher, who said that a miracle is “a confirmation of what is possible.” –
    WH, 12-2-10WH, 12-2-10

HISTORIANS & ANALYSTS’ COMMENTS

  • Gil Troy: This Hanukka let’s celebrate Liberalism and Zionism: Let’s face it. Although Hanukka’s basic plot has not changed for 2,000 years, the Hanukka we know and love is a twentieth-century invention. Hanukka’s themes of heroism and power, both physical and spiritual, were Zionist ideas; traditionally, the Rabbis thanked God for the eight-day oil miracle. When the Zionist revolution reevaluated Judaism a century ago, the Maccabees’ story proved that Jewish history was not just about anti-Semites oppressing us and rabbis teaching us but our own warriors defending us. The Maccabees were hometown heroes, rooted in Israel’s ancient soil, willing to fight, if necessary, for their homeland, their beliefs, their freedom. At the same time, our festival of lights became our popular response to the seasonal malady of Christmas envy. Boasting eight nights, meaning eight gift-giving opportunities, Hanukka helped Jews trump their Christian neighbors.
    Considering that pedigree, this Hanukka we should celebrate the happy marriage of liberalism and Zionism. We can fight the trendy claim that liberalism and Zionism are increasingly incompatible without doing violence to the Maccabean story. Emphasizing a liberal-Zionist rift, in a world fighting the dark clouds of Islamic totalitarianism, ignores the shared enlightenment past of both Zionism and liberalism, as well as the light liberal Zionism can generate today….
    There is yet another added bonus that can result from rededicating our commitment to both liberalism and Zionism this Hanukka. Both modern liberalism and modern Zionism struggle with the tension between materialism and altruism, the selfishness of the “I” and the self-sacrifice of the “us,” the desire to take and the need to give. As Hanukka, like its seasonal partner Christmas, has degenerated into what the historian Daniel Boorstin called “festivals of consumption,” the question “what did you get” has eclipsed the more important holiday questions “what does this mean?” and “did you grow?”
    Traditionally, during Hanukka Jewish communities rededicated themselves to Jewish education. In that spirit, parents gave children “gelt” or coins to sweeten the experience of Torah study. In the early 1900s, many Jews used Hanukka as an opportunity to donate the modern equivalent of the “shekel,” the Biblical coin representing the power of responsibility, the importance of being counted, to the Zionist cause. This Hanukka let’s remember the best of both the liberal and Zionist traditions. This Hanukka, let’s look for opportunities to give not just get. This Hanukka, by doing that, we can redeem not just these two noble movements, but ourselves. – Jerusalem Post, 12-3-10
  • HOWARD JACOBSON: Hanukkah, Rekindled: TONIGHT, Hanukkah begins. The word — Hanukkah — is lovely, but what’s the festival itself for? What does it do? But Hanukkah?
    Everyone knows the bare bones of the story. At Hanukkah we celebrate the Maccabees, also known as the Hasmoneans, who defeated the might of the Syrian-Greek army in 165 B.C., recapturing the desecrated Temple and reconsecrating it with oil that ought to have run out in a day but lasted eight. Indeed, Hanukkah means “consecration,” and when we light those candles we are remembering the re-dedication of the Second Temple in Jerusalem.
    But how many Jews truly feel this narrative as their own? I’m not asking for contemporary relevance. History is history: whatever happens to a people is important to them. But Hanukkah — at least the way it’s told — struggles to find a path to Jewish hearts.
    Those Hasmoneans, for example …. The Maccabees are fair enough: they sound Jewish. Scottish Jewish but still Jewish. There was a sports and social club called the Maccabi round the corner from where I was brought up in North Manchester, and as a boy I imagined the Maccabees as stocky, short-legged, hairy men like the all-conquering Maccabi table tennis team. But “Hasmoneans” rang and rings no bells.
    Perhaps it’s no surprise, then, that Hanukkah doesn’t draw on events described in the Hebrew Bible. The Book of Maccabees, from which the story comes, is in the Apocrypha, the non-canonical, more esoteric books of sacred scripture. There’s a reason it never made it out of there: I won’t say it’s spurious, but it doesn’t quite feel authentic…. – NYT, 12-1-10
  • Latke vs. Hamantaschen: An Age-Old Debate: It’s a debate that’s spanned the centuries – at least about half of one – and brought professors, writers and philosophers to the table to argue their cases on one of the most essential questions in modern scholarly discourse. Which one is better: the latke or the hamantaschen?
    The famed latke-hamantash debate first launched at the University of Chicago in 1946, and since then it’s been argued at such esteemed academic institutions as Harvard, MIT and Johns Hopkins. First conceived as a way to shore up a sense of Jewish community, nowadays the debate is as a way for scholars to blow off some steam, poke fun at academia and support their favorite potato- or flour-based foodstuff…. – Patch.com, 12-3-10
  • Hanukkah in public spaces: Although many people have come to identify public menorahs with Hanukkah itself, a recently published book argues that the holiday’s celebration today has been largely defined by just one slice of the Jewish population.
    “Whatever people associate with Hanukkah in the public space is Chabad,” says Maya Balakirsky Katz, associate professor of art history at Touro College in New York and author of The Visual Culture of Chabad. “In the last few decades, Chabad has provided the public image of Hanukkah in America, possibly in the world.” According to Katz, many Jews balk at Chabad’s conspicuous display of religion in the diaspora and consider it “embarrassing, if not also dangerous.” “They pushed religion into the public space and presented it as the Jewish image,” Katz says. “Before Jews even had a chance to react, it became the Jewish holiday image. I think the only people really invested in challenging Chabad’s right to light are other Jews.”
    “Chabad emissaries take comparisons between their giant menorahs and Christmas trees in stride,” Katz says. “Comparisons between their menorahs and the Israeli national symbol make them more nervous.” Katz’s book devotes an entire chapter to the Lubavitcher Rebbe’s decision to promote menorahs with diagonal branches in sharp contrast to the arced, half-moon branches of the menorah on the Israeli national emblem. The Rebbe claimed his inspiration was an argument by the medieval theologian and physician Maimonides that the original Temple menorah had diagonal branches.
    “For Houston Jews and Jews everywhere, I think the Rebbe initiated a rebirth to diasporist culture; you can proudly be a diaspora Jew and have a whole other material culture that’s not only connected to Israel,” Katz says. “That is definitely going to be part of his legacy. He gave birth to a very proud religious diaspora material culture.”
    Whereas Katz’s book addresses Chabad’s appropriation of Hanukkah as a means to forge an American-Jewish religious material culture, Zaklikofsky focuses on the mitzvah, commandment, of lighting the menorah as a testimony to what he considers a historically documented miracle…. – Houston Chronicle, 12-2-10
  • Southern Jews Put Their Spin On Soul Food: The eight-day Jewish holiday of Hannukah began earlier this week and with it comes culinary traditions of the season. A new book describes how Jews in the American south have blended traditional Jewish fare enjoyed around the holidays with southern cuisine. Host Michel Martin speaks with Marci Cohen Ferris, author of “Matzoh Ball Gumbo: Culinary Tales of the Jewish South”…. – NPR, 12-3-10 Download MP3
  • Dianne Ashton: American Hanukkah Traditions Focus on Children: Newswise — Hanukkah isn’t a hugely important holiday on the Jewish calendar, but modern day celebrations of the Festival of Lights do work to get today’s children–and adults–excited about Judaism, according to Dianne Ashton, a professor of religion studies at Rowan University. Author of a book on Hanukkah in America to be released next year by New York University Press, Ashton says two Cincinnati rabbis led a movement to “Americanize” Judaism in the 1860s. That movement included promoting the idea of a fun holiday festival for Jewish children.
    “One of the rabbis said Jewish children shall have a grand and glorious Hanukkah, a festival as nice as any Christmas, with songs, dramatics, candle lighting, ice cream and candy,” says Ashton, whose book examines Hanukkah from 1860-2000. “This really shifted Hanukkah from primarily an observance of Jewish adults to a festival seen as particularly important for Jewish children, a way to keep them interested in Judaism.”… – Newswise, 11-30-10
  • Rethinking the “Jewish Christmas”: Hanuka is back! Perhaps some wonder when it ever was gone. According to Jenna Weissman Joselit, the Charles E. Smith Professor of Judaic Studies and professor of history at George Washington University, “Well into the 1880s, Chanukah fared poorly in America, a victim of neglect.” She quotes the despairing voices of 19th century American rabbis, in an article for Reform Judaism magazine (Winter 2008): “‘The customary candles disappear more and more from Jewish homes,’ lamented Rabbi Gustav Gottheil in 1884. ‘Kindle the Chanukah lights anew, modern Israelite!’ declared Rabbi Kaufmann Kohler just a few years later. ‘Make the festival more than ever before radiant with the brightness and beauty of love and charity.'” Instead of kindling Hanuka candles, Americans “were adorning their homes with greenery and parlor illuminations and eagerly exchanging gifts in the spirit of Christmas. The purchase of Christmas gifts, commented the Jewish Daily Forward in 1904, ‘is one of the first things that proves one is no longer a greenhorn,'” the Jewish studies professor writes….
    The historian continues her survey of the festival’s rise, noting that in the 1950s, “American Jews no longer had to dread the ‘cruel month’ of December. Chanukah’s accoutrements had grown to include paper decorations, greeting cards, napkins, wrapping paper, ribbons, and phonograph records. And in the years following World War II, the outside world increasingly freighted Chanukah with the same cultural and social significance as Christmas, yoking the two together in demonstration of America’s ‘cultural oneness.’ Public school educators in particular convened a ‘holiday assembly’ on a ‘compromise date’ in December in which a Christmas tree and a ‘Menorah candle’ as well as the singing of Chanukah hymns and Christmas carols figured prominently.”… – American Jewish World, 11-26-10