Full Text Obama Presidency December 5, 2013: President Barack Obama’s Speech at the Evening Hanukkah reception



Remarks by The President at evening Hanukkah reception, 12/5/2013

Source: WH, 12-5-13 

Grand Foyer

8:03 P.M. EST

THE PRESIDENT:  Good evening, everybody. (Applause.)  Welcome to the White House and Happy Hanukkah.  I should say that normally we just have one Hanukkah reception, but this year we’re hosting two.  We have so many friends to celebrate with we had to do it twice.  I welcomed a whole other group this afternoon.  But I want you — don’t tell them, this is actually my favorite group right here.  (Laughter.)  It’s our own little Hanukkah miracle — the party was supposed to last for one hour and it’s lasted for eight.  (Laughter.)

I want to welcome so many friends and leaders from throughout the Jewish community.  We are honored to be joined by one-third of our Supreme Court:  Justice Ginsberg — (applause) — Justice Kagan, who is here somewhere — (applause) — there she is.  And Justice Breyer is here.  (Applause.)  We’ve got some outstanding members of Congress, members of my administration with us, including our new Director of Jewish Outreach, Matt Nosanchuk.  (Applause.)  Where’s Matt?  Matt is out here somewhere.

I also want to welcome representatives from the State of Israel who are joining us.  As some of you recall, I had just an extraordinary, magical visit to Israel earlier this year and was proud to reaffirm the alliance between our two great democracies.  (Applause.)  I also had the opportunity to go to an expo where I saw the best of Israeli technology.  And there’s been such a burst of innovation and creativity that’s taking place — including, by the way, I saw a robot that served me matzah.  (Laughter.)  We were thinking about having that robot here to serve latkes, but we couldn’t get him — (laughter) — so maybe next year.

Obviously, on a note of seriousness, tonight our thoughts and prayers are with the Mandela family in South Africa.  They’re grieving the loss of a man, a moral giant who embodied the dignity and the courage and the hope, and sought to bring about justice not only in South Africa, but I think to inspire millions of people around the world.  And he did that, the idea that every single human being ought to be free and that oppression can end and justice can prevail.  (Applause.)

That’s what —

JUSTICE:  Yes.  (Applause.)

THE PRESIDENT:  That was a Supreme Court Justice who said “yes.”  (Laughter.)  That’s what Nelson Mandela taught us, and it’s that same spirit that brings us here tonight.

And over the last eight days, Jews around the world have gathered with friends and family to light the menorah and retell the story that has been kept alive for more than 2,000 years.  And it’s a story of miracles, of a light that burned for eight days when it should have only lasted for one and a people who surmounted overwhelming odds to reclaim their historic homeland, so they could live their lives in peace and practice their religion in peace.

It’s a story that has been repeated countless times throughout Jewish history.  And as we light the candles tonight, we’re reminded that we’re still writing new chapters in that story today.  In 1922, Abraham and Hayyah Ettinger donated this menorah to their congregation in a small town that’s now the Czech Republic.  And tragically, the Ettingers — and their prayer hall — were lost in the Holocaust.

Yet even in the face of tragedy, Jewish communities around the world kept alive a light that would not be extinguished — the hope that freedom would triumph over tyranny.  And tonight, we’re honored that the menorah that once belonged to the Ettingers will be lit by two Holocaust survivors from the former Czechoslovakia — Margit Meissner and Martin Weiss.  (Applause.)  The triumph they represent and the triumph this menorah represents, the progress that it represents, the notion that we can join together here tonight reminds us that we can never take our blessings for granted and that we always need to keep working for peace and the freedom that we seek.

And that’s why we continue to stand up for our values around the world.  That’s why we stand alongside and partner with those allies who share those values, including the State of Israel.  Together with our Israeli friends, we’re determined to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.  (Applause.)  And we’re testing whether it’s possible through diplomacy to achieve that goal, understanding that we have to remain vigilant.

For the first time in a decade, we’ve halted the progress of Iran’s nuclear program.  And key parts of the program — (applause) — key parts of the program will be rolled back, even though the toughest of our sanctions remain in place.  And that’s good for the world and that’s good for Israel.  Over the coming months, we’re going to continue our diplomacy with the goal of achieving a comprehensive solution that deals with the threat of Iran’s nuclear weapons once and for all.  And through it all, as always, our commitment to Israel and its security will remain iron clad and unshakeable.  (Applause.)

Building a future of security and peace is not easy.  But the story of Hanukkah, of survivors like Margit and Martin — leaders like Nelson Mandela — remind us that those who came before us overcame even greater obstacles than those that we face.  So let’s take strength from their struggles and from their sacrifice.  Let’s give thanks for miracles large and small.  Let’s recommit ourselves to building a future that shines with hope and freedom and peace.  I want to thank all of you for the contributions you’ve made to communities across the country and the many friends who have been so supportive to Michelle and myself during these years.

And with that, I want to welcome Rabbi Joshua Sherwin, a lieutenant in the United States Navy, to say a blessing.  (Applause.)

RABBI SHERWIN:  Thank you, Mr. President.  As Hanukkah formally ends this evening, it is appropriate for us to gather to remind ourselves and the world the true meaning of this holiday.  In that spirit, at this wonderful gathering, we now kindle the menorah and recite two blessings as we kindle these lights — the she-asa nissim, thanking God for the miraculous capability to bring light to the darkest corners of the world and for the leaders who are dedicated to strengthening religious freedom in our days just as the Maccabees did in ancient ones.

The second bracha — we’ll all join together in the shehecheyanu, the simple yet powerful prayer of thanks giving for the blessing of life, for the gift of light and for the privilege of celebrating this Hanukkah together.  I invite you to join me.

(Prayer is sung.)

THE PRESIDENT:  They came in a little late, but that’s okay.  (Laughter.)  There is only one last piece of business that I need to do.  This was prepared for us.  Some of you may be aware that Thanksgiving and the first day of Hanukkah converge only every 70,000 years.  (Laughter.)  So presumably, this is the first and the last time that this may be used.  (Laughter.)  This was prepared for us.  This is called a Menurkey.  (Laughter.)

And I just wanted to make sure that those of you who were not familiar with the Menurkey — (laughter) — that we had our own here in the White House.  (Laughter.)  Enjoy the reception, everybody.  Thank you so much.  God bless you.  God bless America.  (Applause.)

8:15 P.M. EST

University Musings December 5, 2013: McGill University opposes Values Charter, claims affects faculty & recruitment




At its tri-annual debriefing to Quebec’s National Assembly committee on Culture and Education on Tuesday evening, Dec. 3, 2013 in Quebec City, McGill University’s Principal Suzanne Fortier indicated that the upcoming Bill 60, the Charter…READ MORE

Full Text Obama Presidency December 5, 2013: President Barack Obama’s Statement on the Death of Nelson Mandela



Statement by the President on the Death of Nelson Mandela

Source: WH, 12-5-13 

James S. Brady Press Briefing Room

5:25 P.M. EST

THE PRESIDENT:  At his trial in 1964, Nelson Mandela closed his statement from the dock saying, “I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination.  I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities.  It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve.  But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”

And Nelson Mandela lived for that ideal, and he made it real.  He achieved more than could be expected of any man.  Today, he has gone home.  And we have lost one of the most influential, courageous, and profoundly good human beings that any of us will share time with on this Earth.  He no longer belongs to us — he belongs to the ages.

Through his fierce dignity and unbending will to sacrifice his own freedom for the freedom of others, Madiba transformed South Africa — and moved all of us.  His journey from a prisoner to a President embodied the promise that human beings — and countries — can change for the better.  His commitment to transfer power and reconcile with those who jailed him set an example that all humanity should aspire to, whether in the lives of nations or our own personal lives.  And the fact that he did it all with grace and good humor, and an ability to acknowledge his own imperfections, only makes the man that much more remarkable.  As he once said, “I am not a saint, unless you think of a saint as a sinner who keeps on trying.”

I am one of the countless millions who drew inspiration from Nelson Mandela’s life.  My very first political action, the first thing I ever did that involved an issue or a policy or politics, was a protest against apartheid.  I studied his words and his writings.  The day that he was released from prison gave me a sense of what human beings can do when they’re guided by their hopes and not by their fears.  And like so many around the globe, I cannot fully imagine my own life without the example that Nelson Mandela set, and so long as I live I will do what I can to learn from him.

To Graça Machel and his family, Michelle and I extend our deepest sympathy and gratitude for sharing this extraordinary man with us.  His life’s work meant long days away from those who loved him the most.  And I only hope that the time spent with him these last few weeks brought peace and comfort to his family.

To the people of South Africa, we draw strength from the example of renewal, and reconciliation, and resilience that you made real.  A free South Africa at peace with itself — that’s an example to the world, and that’s Madiba’s legacy to the nation he loved.

We will not likely see the likes of Nelson Mandela again.  So it falls to us as best we can to forward the example that he set:  to make decisions guided not by hate, but by love; to never discount the difference that one person can make; to strive for a future that is worthy of his sacrifice.

For now, let us pause and give thanks for the fact that Nelson Mandela lived — a man who took history in his hands, and bent the arc of the moral universe toward justice.  May God Bless his memory and keep him in peace.

5:30 P.M. EST

International Headlines December 5, 2013: Former South African President Nelson Mandela Dies at 95



Former South African President Nelson Mandela Dies at 95


Former South African President Nelson Mandela, who spent 27 years in prison and whose defiance led to the dismantling of the country’s apartheid system, has died after a long illness.  He was 95 years old….READ MORE

Full Text Obama Presidency December 5, 2013: President Barack Obama’s Speech at Afternoon Hanukkah Reception



Remarks by the President at Afternoon Hanukkah Reception

Source: WH, 12-5-13 

Grand Foyer

4:21 P.M. EST

THE PRESIDENT:  Hello, everybody!  Welcome to the White House.  Now, normally we just have one Hanukkah reception, but this year we are hosting two because we have so many friends to celebrate with we had to do it twice.  And I’ll be welcoming a whole other group this evening.  Don’t tell them, though, but you’re my favorite group.  (Laughter.)  It is our own little Hanukkah miracle.  The party that was supposed to last only one hour will go on for eight.  (Laughter.)  You got that one?  (Laughter.)

Now, this is the fifth time I’ve celebrated Hanukkah as President.  But this is my first Thanikkah — did I say that right?

AUDIENCE MEMBER:  Thanksgivukkah.

THE PRESIDENT:  This intersection of two wonderful holidays has inspired a whole lot of people across America; we are delighted to welcome a few of them here tonight.

We’ve got 10-year old Asher Weintraub from New York City — where’s Asher?  (Applause.)  Asher came up with what we believe is the world’s first-ever menorah shaped like a turkey.  It is called the Menurkey.  (Laughter.)  Where is the Menurkey?  I had it just a second ago.

MRS. OBAMA:  You just had it.  Where is the Menurkey?

THE PRESIDENT:  We’ve got to bring the Menurkey out here.  I’ll continue speaking.  You’ve got to see this.  Thank you, Asher, for your spirit and your creativity.

We’ve got Dana Gitell — where’s Dana — (applause) — who actually coined the term “Thanksgivukkah” — her sister Deborah — oh, here’s the Menurkey.  (Applause.)

AUDIENCE MEMBER:  Team Thanksgivukkah is here!

THE PRESIDENT:  There we go.  (Laughter.)  So I’m going to keep this in a special place.  (Laughter.)

So Dana, along with her sister Deborah, expects this term to catch on around the country.  Where are they?

MS. GITELL:  Right here.

THE PRESIDENT:  There they are.  Let’s see them.  Hey, guys.  How are you?  They’ve had a lot of fun with their project.  But there is a serious side to it because they’ve said they always express their gratitude to America, a place where no matter who you are, you can always celebrate your faith.  And that same spirit is reflected in the menorah that we’re about to light.

It was designed by Manfred Anson, who was born in Germany in 1922.  And as a child he lived through the horrors of Kristallnacht, and later lost a brother to the Holocaust.  But Manfred escaped.  And like the Maccabees at the center of the Hanukkah story, he fought against tyranny, serving in the Australian army during World War II.  And like the Maccabees, after the war was over he sought a place where he could live his life and practice his religion free from fear.  So for Manfred and millions like him, that place was ultimately America.

And Manfred passed away last year, but during his life he designed this special menorah, with a model of the Statue of Liberty at the base of each candle — I don’t know if you’ve noticed that.  In a few moments, all nine lady liberties will be shining, a reminder that our country endures as a beacon of hope and of freedom wherever you come from, whatever your faith.

And that beacon stays bright because of families like the one that will join me in lighting the menorah this evening –- the Schmitters.  Now, dad, Jake, could not be here because he’s deployed in Afghanistan.  (Applause.)  But we are joined by his wonderful wife Drew, his daughters Lainey and Kylie — go ahead and wave, guys.  (Laughter.)  So Drew, Lainey, Kylie, I want you to know how proud we are of not only your dad, but also of you.  And we’re so grateful for the sacrifices that you make on behalf of our country every single day.

And tonight, we give thanks to all the men and women in uniform and for their families.  They make tremendous sacrifices on our behalf, on behalf of our freedom and our security — not only of us, but our allies and friends around the world, including our friends in the State of Israel.  And the commitment and the courage of our men and women in uniform and their families is itself a miracle for which we give thanks.

As the Festival of Lights draws to a close, let’s take one last chance to think about all the miracles we’ve been lucky enough to experience in our own lives.  There are small miracles, like the invention of the Menurkey.  (Laughter.)  And then there are big miracles like the chance to be a part of this great country.

The first day of Hanukkah and Thanksgiving won’t overlap again for more than 70,000 years.  So it’s safe to say that this was a once-in-a-lifetime event — (laughter) — unless there’s a really — a scientific breakthrough that we don’t know about.  (Laughter.)  But while we never may see again another Thanksgivukkah, I know that if we can show the same resilience as Manfred Anson and the same resourcefulness as young Asher, as well as Dana and Deborah, and the same strength as military families like the Schmitters, we will be blessed with many more miracles for years to come.

So thank you, everybody.  Happy Hanukkah.  And now I want to welcome Rabbi Amanda Lurer, a lieutenant in our Navy, to say a blessing.  (Applause.)

MS. LURER:  Hanukkah formally ends tonight as the sun goes down this evening.  But it will always be appropriate for us as we gather to remind ourselves and the world of the meaning of this holiday.  So in that spirit, in this wonderful gathering, we now kindle the menorah and recite two blessings.  And as we kindle the lights, we’ll say — the first one is the she-asa nissim blessing, thanking God for the miraculous capability to bring light to the darkest corners of the world, and for leaders who are dedicated to strengthening religious freedoms in our days as in the day of the Maccabees.

The second blessing is shehecheyanu, that simple yet powerful prayer of thanksgiving, for the blessing of life, the gift of light and the privilege to celebrate Hanukkah together.  Please join me.

(Prayer is sung.)

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, thank you all again for being here.  We hope you have a wonderful celebration.  And we can’t stay to party because I got to go back to work.  (Laughter.)  But I do want to make sure that we get a chance to shake hands with all of you briefly as we go by.  And again, we just want to thank the Schmitters, and make sure to tell dad we’re proud of him, too.


THE PRESIDENT:  Okay.  (Laughter.)  Thank you.  (Applause.)  Enjoy, everybody.  Thank you.  (Applause.)

4:31 P.M. EST

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