The Presidents and Hanukkah

There is a legend that General George Washington found inspiration from the Hanukkah story during the long cold winter at Valley Forge. According to this tale, Washington saw a soldier lighting the candles. He asked about them and the soldier explained the story of Hanukkah, the victory of the few in defense of their freedom against the tyranny of a powerful oppressor. The soldier expressed confidence in the ultimate victory of the Americans. Washington was encouraged by this story of Hanukkah as he continued his leadership of the American forces.

Over 200 years later, In 1979 President Carter became the first President to officially recognize Hanukkah by lighting the National Menorah. Subsequent Presidents have continued the tradition of lighting the menorah. Below are some of the Presidential Hanukkah greetings since that time:

  • “May the light of the menorah always be a source of strength and inspiration to the Jewish people and to all mankind"

  • “…as the menorah’s light grows stronger with one (additional) candle being lit each day, we can feel the flame of freedom burning in your hearts and that flame should inspire people everywhere”

  • “From the days of the ancient Maccabees down to our present time, tyrants have sought to deny people the free expression of their faith and the right to live according to their own conscience and convictions.  Hanukkah symbolizes the heroic struggle of all who seek to defeat such oppression and the miracles that come to those full of faith and courage."

  • “Through centuries of exile and persecution, Jews have lit the menorah. Each year, they behold its glow with faith in the power of God, and love for His greatest gift – freedom”

  • “…by lighting the menorah, Jews around the world celebrate the victory of light over darkness and give thanks for the presence of a just and loving God”

  • “The word Hanukkah means dedication, and the message of Hanukkah calls on us to dedicate ourselves to recognizing the miracles in our daily lives. This dedication has the power to lift our souls and to make us better people and to make the world a better place.”

  • “In every corner of the world, Jews have lit the Hanukkah candles as symbols of resilience in times of peace, and in times of persecution – in concentration camps and ghettos; war zones and unfamiliar lands. Their light inspires us to hope beyond hope; to believe that miracles are possible even in the darkest of hours. It is this message of Hanukkah that speaks to us no matter what faith we practice or what beliefs we cherish…it invites all of us to rededicate ourselves to improving the lives of those around us, spreading the light of freedom and tolerance wherever oppression and prejudice exist.”

  • “…over the coming days, may the warming glow of each candle on the menorah help fill homes and hearts with love and happiness. Together, we reaffirm the truth that light will always break through the darkness. We send our very best wishes for a blessed and happy Hanukkah.”

I haven’t identified which President made each greeting as I prefer to focus on the message of the holiday itself, not the messenger.

Let us hope for peace and freedom in the coming year.