Kamala Harris and Doug Emhoff Make History With White House Menorah Lighting Ceremony: 'A Family Tradition'

"In each successive generation, the Hanukkah story provides a powerful lesson and nourishes the wellspring of hope," President Joe Biden said of Hanukkah

White House menorah lighting ceremony
White House menorah lighting ceremony.

For the first time in U.S. history, the White House menorah lighting ceremony was a family affair, with Second Gentleman Doug Emhoff, who is Jewish, leading the celebration.

"This is a White House tradition, but for the first time in history it is a family tradition," President Joe Biden said at the event, held Wednesday night in the in the East Room.

Elsewhere in his remarks, 79-year-old Biden spoke about how Hanukkah offers a powerful lesson to all Americans, regardless of their religious affiliation.

"In each successive generation, the Hanukkah story provides a powerful lesson and nourishes the wellspring of hope," Biden said. "In darkness, there's light. In cynicism, there's hope and optimism and an unyielding belief that miracles are possible."

Biden noted that the menorah featured in the ceremony was designed by artist Manfred Anson, who was one of 20 boys selected by the Jewish Welfare Society to flee from Germany in the beginning of World War Two.

White House menorah
From left: Joe Biden, Jill Biden, Kamala Harris.

"A miracle, but one shadowed by darkness as his younger brother didn't make it out — killed in the concentration camp," the president added. "Pain. The pain — it is easy — in the pain, it's easy to lose hope and harden what's left of a broken heart and a broken soul."

But Manfred, Biden said, did not dwell in pain, instead joining the Australian Army to fight against the fascists.

Manfred later reunited with another sibling — his sister, who had survived the concentration camp.

White House menorah
White House menorah lighting ceremony.

"Manfred and his sister came to the United States ... it was his adopted homeland," Biden said. "He began collecting thousands of souvenirs of little Statues of Liberty, of the U.S. Capitol, and the Liberty Bell, which is what he used to design this menorah — this menorah we're going to pay tribute to. Two centuries of two cultures."

Emhoff, 57, was joined in lighting the menorah by Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, who is also Jewish.

In her own remarks at the White House ceremony, Emhoff's wife, Vice President Kamala Harris, said Hanukkah "is a one of our family favorites as a holiday."

"And every year, our family, like so many around the world, gather to reflect on the lessons of the Hanukkah story: the power of the people, the possibility of the future; that even in despair, there is hope; that even in darkness, there is light," Harris, 57, added.

Earlier this week, Emhoff lit the National Menorah to celebrate the start of Hanukkah.

"It is such an honor to be here tonight as the first Second Gentleman of the United States and as our nation's first Jewish Second Gentleman of the United States," Emhoff said in a speech while standing on the Ellipse in front of the White House. "It's also an honor to be here on behalf of the Biden-Harris administration, to be here as this beautiful menorah is lit in front of the People's House right behind us here on the people's front lawn in this land of the free."

The Sunday ceremony marked the start of the Festival of Lights, which lasts eight days.

The celebration of Hanukkah dates back more than 2,000 years but the lighting ceremony in Washington began in 1979 during President Jimmy Carter's administration. The 2021 National Menorah is made of recycled aluminum, The Jerusalem Post reports.

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