It may be "one of the hottest holiday events for the nation's Jewish elite," but the December 16th menorah-fest has been called a half-assed exercise in "studied callousness." Others have just invoked latkes. A lot.
The White House has stated that the President "looks forward to celebrating Hanukkah at the White House and having many members of the Jewish American community at that event." And, describes the NY Times, "a Jewish student choir will sing in sweet harmony, the two young children of a soldier deployed in Iraq will light a 19th-century silver menorah from Prague and President Obama and his wife, Michelle, will greet more than 500 guests in a celebration that is expected to spill from the State Room to the East Room." But, half-assed! cry the critics, as rumors circulate that Obama's first, "more intimate" Festival of Lights will be only half the size of GW Bush's (not, in fact, true) and is indicative of a general disinterest in reaching out to the Jewish community.
Writes Tevi Troy (who superintended Bush's Hanukkah parties, the White House's first), in an op-ed for the JTA,
While the size of the party may not be a big deal in the grand scheme of things, even some of Obama's supporters may see it in the context of this longer train of politically tone-deaf decisions...Regardless of the party's size, Obama should be warned that Jewish visitors to the White House often live up to the old maxim that "Gentiles leave without saying goodbye, while Jews say goodbye and never leave." I have seen this phenomenon myself. After one particularly late night social event at the White House, then-Chief of Staff Josh Bolten joked to Bush's senior staff that the White House military aides — who staff official events in full ceremonial garb — almost had to unsheathe their swords in order to get Chanukah celebrants to exit the White House residence by the party's 8 p.m. close.
But others use Jewish stereotypes to argue the other side! According to the Jerusalem Post,
Nathan Diament of the Orthodox Union expressed displeasure at those who would criticize the smaller number of invitations. "As we know from Biblical times, we Jews are very good at complaining," he said. "People shouldn't complain. It's very nice that President Obama is having a Hanukka party. People can choose to gripe about the guest list or any other aspect of it, but the fact is this White House is going to continue this practice, which is a lovely thing." And Rabbi Levi Shemtov, Chabad's representative in Washington, said having a kosher spread is a key part of welcoming in the Jewish community as part of that tradition. He described the spread as "the works," including traditional Hanukka treats such as potato pancakes and sufganiyot.Pointing to the food's importance in the White House Hanukka ritual, he added, "People might think this way or that way on whatever issue, but everyone agrees on a good latke."
Ira Forman, CEO of the National Jewish Democratic Council, writing in the Huffington Post, declared (with an inexplicable lack of references to potato pancakes),
(These allegations) are absolute nonsense. One of the reasons I have loved working in the nation's capital for Jewish organizations is because the Jewish community has had a serious policy agenda — not just on Israel, but also on issues ranging from civil rights to combating hunger. Perhaps this thread of stories complaining about the lack of tickets to a White House holiday party is simply a reflection of conservative Jews searching for ways to knock the President; I hope so. Heaven help us if we really begin to act as if party invitations are what our community is all about.
Rabbi Levi Shemtov declares to the Times, "This is all one big overblown latke...I feel that we need to save our communal kvetching in reserve for when it's more called for and really matters."
Washington Fuss Over White House Hanukkah Party [NY Times]
White House Hanukkah Blues [Huffington Post]
White House Hanukka Party Guest List To Be Cut In Half [Jerusalem Post]
Op-Ed: Obama Must Beware Of The Chanukah Snub [JTA]