From ‘holiday’ to ‘Chanuka,’ a busy week in D.C.
WASHINGTON — The incumbent president called it a “holiday,” until he called it “Chanuka,” and a few Jews wondered if their fellows weren’t being oversensitive about it.
Who said Chanuka isn’t touchy-feely? Well, touchy anyway.
President Obama’s Chanuka party last week was perhaps the most watched since, well, his immediate predecessor’s first Chanuka party in 2001.
President Bush’s party that year engendered a degree of controversy over who was and wasn’t invited, but the fact that he was establishing a tradition of a formal party — previous presidents had lit a menora and not much more — shunted aside hurt feelings.
Obama, on the other hand, had an eight-year-old tradition with which to contend — and rumors, repeated in media outlets with unclear sourcing, that he was inviting “only” 400 guests as opposed to the 800 or so Bush had invited. Moreover, some guests complained that the invitation was for a “holiday” event.
“Bush always mentioned Chanuka,” one invitee griped to JTA.
The White House shot back through The New York Times, saying that in fact 550 were on the guest list and that was consistent with Bush-era parties.
As for “holiday,” that’s the word that appeared on Christmas-related invitations as well, JTA learned. In any case, a gift program handed to guests as they arrived celebrated “Hanukkah, the festival of lights.”
The program also went into great detail about the kosher certification of every available item — a first, according to insiders. It guaranteed that “all meats are Glatt Kosher, all baked goods are Pas Yisroel, all wines are Mevushal, all foods have been prepared Lemihadrin with a Mashgiach Temidi.” An engraving of the White House graced the page.
The menu included latkes, London broil and lox. Catering was by Dahan, the premiere kosher outfit in the Washington area, but some foods were prepared on the premises. White House stoves were kashered before the event, and the resultant heat set off an alarm that sent the Secret Service into the kitchen to make certain all was OK.
White House staff, from the president on down, appeared sensitive to the controversies. Obama, posing in an adjacent room with a select few -— including Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg — told the photographer to keep the Christmas tree out of the shot.
Officials made advance calls about the color scheme of the souvenir booklet — which was more “Jewish,” blue and silver or blue and gold? (Blue and silver.)
In the end, no one was counting heads, and a good time was had by all, at least according to post-party analysis, although there were a couple of lingering complaints: Obama spent only about 20 minutes at the party, and there was no receiving line.
“It’s not an unreasonable thing for people to want to have a picture taken,” said Mort Klein, who attended in his capacity as president of the Zionist Organization of America. “It shouldn’t be dismissed as silly.”