How Hanukkah Came to the White House by Jonathan D. Sarna in Forward.com
The first president who took official notice of Hanukkah was one of the Jewish community’s least-favorite occupants of the White House, Jimmy Carter. In 1979, he ended 100 days of self-imposed seclusion over the Iran hostage crisis by walking to Lafayette Park, lighting the new “National Menorah” erected there by Chabad-Lubavitch, and delivering brief remarks. Sensitized to the fact that Jews celebrate their own holiday in December, he carefully directed his next annual Christmas message only “to those of our fellow citizens who join us in the joyous celebration of Christmas.” Every president since has recognized Hanukkah with a special menorah-lighting ceremony, and limited his Christmas messages to those who actually observe the holiday.
Hanukkah came to the White House itself, in 1989, when President George H.W. Bush displayed a menorah there, given to him by the Synagogue Council of America. But the first president to actually light a menorah in the White House was Bill Clinton. In 1993, he invited a dozen schoolchildren to the Oval Office for a small ceremony. The event made headlines when 6-year-old Ilana Kattan’s ponytail dipped into the flame. Clinton ran his hands through her hair to snuff out the smoke. [more…]