Washington, DC…Happy Hanukkah, and welcome to the White House! It’s wonderful to see so many friends and familiar faces. And we’re excited to celebrate Hanukkah together. All around you are decorations inspired by you, “We the People.” They’re the first words of our Constitution and the heart and soul of our nation.
We may celebrate different holidays, we may sing different songs or say different prayers, but our shared American values endure season after season: kindness and gratitude, faith that can light our way forward, peace, wisdom, and strength.
Throughout these halls, in the shining silver and shimmering mirrors, you will catch glimpses, I hope, of your own reflection. And I hope you will notice something else as well: a new menorah. (Applause.)
It’s made of historic wood from the beams of this house, rescued when President Truman renovated this building. Its hand-hammered silver cups are meant to magnify the glow of the candles, their beauty reminding us both the mir- — the Hanukkah miracle and the joy it inspired. Each detail was carefully chosen and executed by our Executive Residence Carpenter Shop.
It’s a work, really, of historic importance, but it’s also a work of love. Lawrence and Robbie, thank you for creating this gift to all Americans.
Where are you? Here they are! (Applause.)
Honestly, they created it, and it — if you haven’t seen it, it is so beautiful.
You know, other menorahs have been borrowed before — borrowed — beautiful, significant, and meaningful ones. But the White House has never had its own menorah until now. (Applause.) It is now a cherished piece of this home, your home.
Tonight, when the candles are lit, you will — we will recreate the wonder of the Maccabees and the oil with a blessing that recalls the miracles performed both in the days of old and at this time.
We will begin with one small flame that spreads to each wick it touches.
As the light grows and the menorah’s silver cups create a kaleidoscope of reflections, we hope that you will see yourself in it as well.
The story of America is the story of you, of all of us, drawing strength from those who came before, spreading the fire that burns in our hearts, grateful for the miracles of love and faith and kindness and courage that surround us each and every day.
May the promise of “We the People” light our path forward into Hanukkah and the New Year, and it — may it bring us together, as always. Thank you. (Applause.)
Now, our candle lighters today bring us stories of pain and resilience, faith and justice. Joining us are:
Bronia Brandman, who, at 12 years old, was deported to Auschwitz with her family. And she didn’t speak about her pain for 50 years, until she started volunteering at the Museum of Jewish Heritage. Now she shares her story with all who need to hear it, including the President earlier this year.
Next is the U.S. Representative to the United Nations Human Rights Council, Ambassador Michèle Taylor. A daughter and a granddaughter of Holocas- — Holocaust survivors, she is an advocate for civil rights around the world.
And finally, Avi Heschel, granddaughter of Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, a leader in the civil rights movement.
Since his passing 50 years ago this month, Rabbi Heschel’s legacy has lived on through his family and all who keep his words in their hearts.
But first, I have the pleasure of introducing Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker. (Applause.) When his congregation was taken hostage, Rabbi Cytron-Walker hos- — Cytron-Walker courageously kept the gunman calm and put himself in harm’s way so that his congregants could escape. We are honored to have him here to share the blessing with us. (Applause.)
RABBI CYTRON-WALKER: I want to thank you, Dr. Biden, for your kind words. We are so grateful to you, and we’re so grateful to President Biden for your warmth and your hospitality this evening. It means the world. It really means the world to us.
A lot of people will ask me about that day, and they’ll ask about the trauma, and they’ll talk about it as a tragedy. And I’ll respond back that we all made it out. Thank God it wasn’t a tragedy. It could have been — (applause) — it could have been so much worse. It was terrible and it was terrifying, and we were able to get out alive.
And that is the story of Hanukkah — the story where the Jewish people suffered through oppression and pain and loss and war.
And despite all the difficulties and all the struggle, we are here today to celebrate because, against all odds, Judaism endured, and Judaism has thrived.
So I am celebrating Hanukkah this year with such gratitude. It is so good to be here. (Applause.) It is so good to stand here before you. Last night we said, “Thank you, God, for enabling us to reach this season.” I meant it. I meant it.
And I am so grateful for all the support that we have received. Antisemitism may be on the rise, and thank God that people are standing at our side. We have such — we have had such overwhelming love and support, especially from our President and from Dr. Biden.
THE FIRST LADY: Thank you.
RABBI CYTRON-WALKER: Thank you. (Applause.) Thank you.
It is not a contradiction to acknowledge our challenges and still be filled with appreciation. Our history is filled with tenacity and resilience. We have experienced the worst of humanity, haven’t we? And we refuse — we refuse to give in to despair.
In our darkest hours, we bring light. We bring light to our family. We bring light to our community. We bring light to our country. We bring light to our world.
So with gratitude and appreciation, I invite you all to join with me as we offer our Hanukkah blessings.
And at this time, I’d like to invite forward our candle lighters to join me as we light this beautiful, incredible, historic Hanukkah menorah.
(The menorah candles are lit and a blessing is offered.)
Happy Hanukkah. (Applause.)
THE PRESIDENT: Hello, everybody. (Applause.) My name is Joe Biden, and I’m Jill’s husband. (Laughter.) And you three guys have been standing there a — want to come up on the stage and sit down here with me?
Why don’t you just have seat? It’s easier. You can sit if you want.
(Three children come and sit on the stage.)
THE PRESIDENT: They’re being great kids, I tell you. (Laughter.)
CHILD: He gets it! (Laughter.)
THE PRESIDENT: Well, I don’t know, I —
Well, folks, Happy Hanukkah, everyone. (Applause.) On behalf of Jill, Doug, and Kamala, thank you. And, Rabbi, Bronia, thank you for hanging out with me la- — a couple weeks ago. And Michèle and — and Abigale. To all of you here, including so many friends, thank you being — for being part of this moment.
Just over two months ago, Jill and I her- — hosted the first-ever High Holiday reception at the White House.
It was deeply meaningful. It was something that we’ve alwa- — we’ll remember. And I felt — it felt what — what the Jewish proverb teaches: “What comes from the heart goes to the heart.” And it went to our heart, for real. It’s never happened before in the White House.
Tonight, we’re honored to mark another new tradition we’re establishing tonight. And that is the lighting of what will be the first-ever permanent White House menorah. (Applause.) It will also be the first Jewish artifact in the entire White House collection. (Applause.)
You know, Jill just described it, and I echo her — her gratitude to the incredible White House carpenters who made it. You all didn’t really — really appreciate that. But I tell you what, guys — thank you, thank you, thank you for the love you put into it. (Applause.)
You know, to celebrate Hanukkah, previous administrations borrowed a menorah with special significance of survival, hope, and joy.
This year, we thought it was important to celebrate Hanukkah with another message of significance: permanence. Permanence.
The very promise of America is that we all are created equal and deserve to be treated equally throughout our entire lives.
While we have never lived up to that promise, we’ve never fully walked away from that promise. It’s been up to each successive generation to dedicate ourselves to delivering on that promise.
That’s the story of America. It’s also the story of Hanukkah — a story of recapturing, restoring, and rededication of the Temple of Jerusalem, desecrated by the ancient Greeks. A timeless story — a timeless story of miracles; of a small, courageous band of warriors fighting — fighting for their values and their freedom to defeat one of the most historically powerful empires.
The miracle of that small jar of oil, found among the temple wreckage, it should only have lasted one day yet burned brightly for eight days. Eight days. The flame of faith that burns from tragedy to persecution with a spirit of survival and resilience that endures. And it has endured.
In America, we see it in our contributions of the generations of Jewish Americans enriching every single part and aspect of American life, contribution defined by the values of equality and justice, freedom, charity, service, dignity.
The spirit of survival and resilience also endures in this menorah, built from the foundation — reclaimed and rededicated White House wood, possibly dating as — to the early 1800s, for generations past.
And supposedly — you know, it’s supported by modern, polished silver cups, from today and for generations to come.
But the Talmud teaches us we cannot rely on or expect miracles; we have to earn them. Earn them. We know that task is not easy. No one knows better than this audience.
This year’s Hanukkah arrival — arrives in the midst of rising emboldenment of antisemitism at home and, quite frankly, around the world.
I recognize your fear, your hurt, your worry that this vile and venom is becoming too normal.
As your President, I want to make this clear — as my dad would say, and many of you have said: Silence is complicity. We must not remain silent. (Applause.)
And I made no bones about it from the very beginning: I will not be silent. America will not be silent. (Applause.) I mean it.
Over 20 years ago, here in the White House, my dear friend Elie Wiesel — and he was a friend, became a friend — who passed away six years ago and who we all miss — delivered a speech about, quote, the “Perils of Indifference.” The “Perils of Indifference.”
He said, “Indifference is not a response. Indifference is not a beginning; [Indifference] is an end. And therefore, indifference is always the friend of the enemy…” Always the friend of the enemy.
Today, we must all say clearly and forcefully: Antisemitism and all forms of hate and violence in this country can have no safe harbor in America. Period. (Applause.)
And evil — this is not hyperbole — evil will not win. Hate will not prevail.
Like this White House menorah, our commitment to the safety of the Jewish people and to the vibrancy of Jewish life that’s tightly woven into every fabric of America, it’s permanent. Permanent.
And folks — (applause) — that’s why I appointed Deborah Lipstadt, the Holocaust expert — (applause) — there you are, Deborah — a Holocaust expert, the first Ambassador-level Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Antisemitism. And you got it in your heart, you got it in your hand, and you got the capacity to do it. God love you. (Applause.)
I’ve launched a new effort to develop a national strategy
to counter the scourge of antisemitism and convene the first-of-its-kind White House summit on combating hate-fueled violence.
We helped secure the largest increase in federal funding ever for the physical security of non-profits, including synagogues and Jewish community centers. (Applause.)
And nobody — nobody — for nobody should ever fear going to a religious service and a school or walking down the street wearing a symbol of one’s faith.
Let me close with this. Just as we light one candle after another, another lesson from the Talmud is this: No matter what challenge we face, we’ve never stopped moving forward. Think about it. Never once have we stopped moving forward.
“We must rise in our faith and holiness. Never decline.”
And as we do, let us also hold on the hope, as the Jewish proverb says, ever glimmer of light — every glimmer of light can dispel much darkness. “Even a glimmer of light,” I should say.
That’s why, during this sacred season, I’ve never been more optimistic — and I mean this from the bottom of my heart — I’ve never been more optimistic about America — the future of America.
In all of you, I see glimpses of light — and I mean it — and I know many of you very well, especially the menorah lighters that came up here, representing three generations — three generations:
A Holocaust survivor, to make sure we never forget.
A heroic rabbi who I spoke to that day, who leaves no one behind — left no one behind. That’s an interesting notion when you think about it, but it took a lot of courage.
An ambassador who advocates for human rights.
And the young granddaughter of the great Rabbi Abraham Heschel who marched with Dr. King for the dignity of all people and inspired all of us to get involved in the civil rights movement.
Kid, if my mom — if my dad were here, he’d look at you and, “Kid, you got good blood.” You got good blood. No, your great-grandpop was amazing. An amazing man. He inspired my generation. My generation. That’s how I got involved in public life. Not a joke. Not a joke.
And so, like each distinct candle, we come from different
backgrounds, traditions, and generations, but we’re bonded by the menorah and the enduring belief that, in America, we know and we love the story of a nation that depends not on any one of us, not on some of us, but on all of us.
So this Hanukkah, let’s celebrate the rededication — the rededication of ourselves to the spirit of resilience, unity, and permanence.
Let’s remember who we are. We are the United States of America and there’s nothing beyond our capacity when we decide to do it together. Not a single thing.
Happy Hanukkah, America. (Applause.) And God bless you all. God bless you all. (Applause.)