Hanukah is a commemoration of a miracle. After defeating Antiochus who had persecuted the Jews, Judah Maccabee ordered the temple in jerusalem to be rededicated. Jewish law madated that a light always burn before the Torah, and the Jews had only enough oil to keep the light going for a day - and instead, it burned for eight days, allowing fresh oil to be prepared.
And old joke once told to me by an Orthodox Jew is that whenever anyone asks, "When is Hanukah this year?" a proper wagster would wink and answer, "The same time every year - the 25th of Kislev!" It is - exept since the Jewish calendar is based on the phases of the moon, it is not fixed as our modern Gregorian calendar, and so Hanukah "moves" each year.
This year is will begin at sundown on December 20th . . . except in OT. No, not over time - Obama time.
Obama, first lady Michelle Obama and Vice President Joe Biden convened a Hanukkah celebration at the White House Thursday in an early celebration of the Jewish Festival of Lights.
Hanukkah begins at sunset on Dec. 20. Obama joked that everyone needs to be "careful that your kids don't start thinking Hanukkah lasts 20 nights instead of eight."
Oh ha, ha, ha . . . nothing like checking off "perform token gesture to Jews" from your to do list early, especially when it might interfere with your Hawaiian vacation. It wasn't a token gesture? Unlike the actual Hanukah, where the candles are lit consecutively, one each night, until all eight (plus the extra shammes candle) are lit, Obama handily lit all of them at once, made his joke, and . . . that was it. What, no latkes? I guess Obama thought his Catskill shtick was "Jewish" enough.
The offiical White House transcript (as of December 9, 2011 at 6:19 am EST - I put that because as criticism rises, they may well scrub the references to laughter):
THE PRESIDENT: Well, good evening, everybody. Welcome to the White House. Thank you all for joining us tonight to celebrate Hanukkah -- even if we're doing it a little bit early. (Laughter.)
I want to start by recognizing a few folks who are here. The ambassador to the United States from Israel, Michael Oren, is in the house. (Applause.)
We are honored to be joined by one of the justices of the Supreme Court, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is here. (Applause.) We are thrilled to see her. She's one of my favorites, I got to -- (laughter.) I've got a soft spot for Justice Ginsburg.
And we’ve got more than a few members of Congress here and members of my administration in the house, including our new Director of Jewish Outreach, Jarrod Bernstein is here. Where's Jarrod? (Applause.) Hey, Jarrod.
I also want to thank the West Point Jewish Chapel Cadet Choir –- (applause) -- the Voice of Tradition -– for their wonderful performance, but more importantly, for their extraordinary service to our country.
And I want to thank all the rabbis and lay leaders who have come far and wide to be here with us today.
Now, as I said, we’re jumping the gun just a little bit. The way I see it, we’re just extending the holiday spirit. We're stretching it out. (Laughter.) But we do have to be careful that your kids don’t start thinking Hanukkah lasts 20 nights instead of eight. (Laughter.) That will cause some problems.
This Hanukkah season we remember a story so powerful that we all know it by heart -- even us Gentiles. It’s a story of right over might, of faith over doubt. Of a band of believers who rose up and freed their people and discovered that the oil left in their desecrated temple –- which should have lasted only one night –- ended up lasting eight.
It’s a timeless story. And for 2,000 years, it has given hope to Jews everywhere who are struggling. And today, it reminds us that miracles come in all shapes and sizes. Because to most people, the miracle of Hanukkah would have looked like nothing more than a simple flame, but the believers in the temple knew it was something else. They knew it was something special.
This year, we have to recognize the miracles in our own lives. Let’s honor the sacrifices our ancestors made so that we might be here today. Let’s think about those who are spending this holiday far away from home -– including members of our military who guard our freedom around the world. Let’s extend a hand to those who are in need, and allow the value of tikkun olam to guide our work this holiday season.
This is also a time to be grateful for our friendships, both with each other and between our nations. And that includes, of course, our unshakeable support and commitment to the security of the nation of Israel. (Applause.)
So while it is not yet Hanukkah, let’s give thanks for our blessings, for being together to celebrate this wonderful holiday season. And we never need an excuse for a good party. (Laughter.) So we are going to see all of you in a second downstairs --
MRS. OBAMA: Aren't we in the Blue Room?
THE PRESIDENT: Or wherever we are. (Laughter.) I think we're downstairs. We are downstairs in the Map Room. So as I look around, I see a whole bunch of good friends. We can't wait to give you a hug and a kiss and wish you a happy holiday. The guys with whiskers, I won't give you a kiss. (Laughter.)
Thank you very much, everybody. (Applause.)