Political News

White House Celebrates Hanukkah

Posted December 10, 2007 7:14 p.m. EST
Updated December 11, 2007 5:33 p.m. EST

— President Bush recognized Hanukkah on Monday by remembering the kidnapping and murder in 2002 of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl at the hands of Islamic militants in Pakistan.

"His only crime was being a Jewish-American - something Daniel Pearl would never deny," Bush said as he celebrated the Jewish holiday that commemorates religious freedom and the successful fight against oppression.

Pearl's father, Judea, struck a match and he and the reporter's mother, Ruth, lighted candles on a family menorah. Daniel Pearl's great-grandfather, Chayim Pearl, brought it with him when he moved from Poland to Israel in 1924. The menorah will stay at the White House through Tuesday, the last night of Hanukkah.

"In his final moments, Daniel told his captors about a street in Israel named for his great-grandfather. He looked into their camera and he said, `My father is Jewish. My mother is Jewish, and I'm Jewish,'" Bush said. "These words have become a source of inspiration for Americans of all faiths. They show the courage of a man who refused to bow before terror - and the strength of a spirit that could not be broken."

Jewish people lit the first candle of Hanukkah last Tuesday evening to begin the eight-day Jewish festival of lights. Hanukkah commemorates the rededication of the Jewish Second Temple in Jerusalem in 164 B.C. after its desecration by the Syrian Greeks.

According to the story told to Jewish children, when the victorious force of Judah Maccabee tried to rekindle the Temple candelabra, or menorah, they found only one day's worth of olive oil. But tradition says the oil burned for eight days. For many Jewish people, the holiday symbolizes their triumphs against great odds.

Earlier in the day, Bush met in the Roosevelt Room with Jewish leaders, including many who have fled from religious oppression in countries like Iran and Syria and the Soviet Union. He also marked International Human Rights Day.

"They came to America because our nation is a beacon of freedom," Bush said. "And they see a day of hope on the horizon when people all across the world will worship in freedom. The forces of intolerance can suppress the menorah, but they can never extinguish its light."