Many mixed emotions ran through me last night as the harmonious voices of hundreds of Jewish community leaders joined with the President and First Lady of the United States in the singing of the Chanukah blessings. We then joined in a Shehecheyanu prayer as we celebrated the sixth night of Chanukah and the sixth annual Chanukah White House celebration, led by a military rabbi who just last year helped Jewish soldiers in combat.
Surrounded by rabbinic colleagues, family and friends from the community – new and old ones – and, my excitement and energy was tempered by a twinge of melancholy. I could not help but think of my immigrant parents who never would have been invited to the seats of power in their countries of origin, Germany and Austria – in fact, just the opposite was true; they fled from the oppressive governments that sought to destroy them and their communities.
I can hear their accented voices saying “only in America”: for only in America can immigrants from Germany and Austria rebuild lives, raising a son and a daughter who both now serve the Jewish people as rabbis. Only in America would their son be invited to the White House – the home of the highest leader of the government — representing the Reform Rabbinate. Only in America can the President, First Lady, Rabbis and community leaders join together singing blessing representing our enduring capacity to overcome oppression, be it 2,000 years ago or a mere 70 years ago or in the world today. As my parents would say, “only in America – Happy Chanukah.”