A very Rahm Chanukah
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A very Rahm Chanukah

WASHINGTON ““ Rahm Emanuel had a serious message about mutual responsibility to make in a pithy, punchy speech before he helped light the “national menorah” Sunday evening on the Ellipse in front of the White House.

Still, the White House chief of staff being, well, himself, he couldn’t resist a couple of one-liners.

Rabbi Levi Shemtov, who directs American Friends of Lubavitch, rushed in a “thanks” to the performers before calling Emanuel to the stage. After taking the microphone, the Obama aide quipped that “The U.S. Air Force Band, the Three Cantors, and Dreidel Man – sounds a little like the title of a Fellini movie.”

Chanukah 5770Emanuel went on to make the lessons of Chanukah a paradigm for the collective responsibility for those not able to defend or care for themselves.

“Standing up for what is right, even when it is hard, is not a job for some other people, some other time,” he said. “It is a job for all of us.”

And still, expounding on the holiday miracle, he couldn’t resist a dig at his former habitat, Congress.

“The oil lasted longer than anyone expected – kind of like the health-care debate,” he said.

Chanukah started on a Friday evening this year, which meant that as a result of Sabbath restrictions, the opening ceremony had to wait until the holiday’s third day. That left Emanuel in the unenviable position of having to light three candles from the wind-blown crane he shared with Shemtov; Shemtov’s father, Rabbi Abraham Shemtov; a Secret Service agent; and a photographer.

This involved stretching to extend the shamas to the far end of the candelabrum – the younger Shemtov was ready with a cigarette lighter when the shamas blew out – to the oohs and ahhs of a thrilled and apprehensive crowd, apprehensive except maybe for Emanuel’s wife, Amy Rule, who laughed and took pictures as her husband held on for dear life.

The event, dubbed the “national menorah” by President Ronald Reagan in the 1980s, filled all 4,000 free seats – and then some – despite mud-soaked fields.

And add one more miracle to the Chanukah canon: Drizzling rain, which plagued the D.C.-area over the weekend, stopped just before the festivities started. JTA

This article was adapted from JTA’s politics blog (blogs.jta.org/politics).

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