By Ron Kampeas/(JTA) – President Trump’s special guests at the first party were eight Holocaust survivors. The second featured the Pollack family, who lost a daughter, Meadow, in the mass shooting in Parkland, Florida, this year. The mood was festive, according to those attending, with Trump applauding the Jewish people for building Israel into a “mighty and majestic nation.” He then pledged his administration would always stand beside Israel.
Some at the afternoon party were nonplussed when Trump introduced Vice President Mike Pence and his wife, Karen, as admirers of “your” country – that is, Israel. “I want to thank Vice President Mike Pence. A tremendous supporter a tremendous supporter of yours. And Karen. And they go there and they love your country. They love your country. And they love this country. That’s a good combination, right?” That raised a few eyebrows in the room, a participant told JTA, and engendered commentary outside of it, where people wondered whether Trump understood that American Jews tend to love Israel, but are, well, American (or at least resent any insinuation, intended or not, that they put the former before the latter). “Just a nice reminder that the line between antisemitism and philosemitism is so, so thin,” Shayna Weiss, the associate director of the Schusterman Center for Israel Studies at Brandeis University, said on Twitter.
Trump also mentioned his decision one year ago to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem, which the hawkish pro-Israel crowd and even pro-Israel centrists found hard to criticize. He also noted the resiliency of the Jewish people, and how that is celebrated during Chanukah week, and spoke of the massacre in October at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh.
There also was a nod to post-election bipartisanship. Last year, the White House invited no congressional Democrats. Turning up were Reps. Ted Deutch of Florida and Josh Gottheimer of New Jersey, as well as Jared Polis, the governor-elect of Colorado.
It was a busy Chanukah week in the nation’s capital. The Israeli Embassy hosted a party the same day (guests got a first-day issue of the Chanukah stamp that Israel and the U.S. are distributing at the same time). The congressional party took place at the Library of Congress, co-hosted in comity by Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schutz, D-Fla., and Lee Zeldin, R-N.Y. And the Republican Jewish Coalition had its bash at the Trump International Hotel. Earlier in the week, the Austrian and Polish embassies hosted parties – the latter for the first time – and it was in conjunction with Israel’s embassy, a signal of warming ties between the countries. On Saturday, the Indian Embassy hosted a party. The American Jewish Committee co-sponsored the Austrian and Indian events.
The festivities were launched Sunday with the “National Menorah” lighting on the Ellipse, in front of the White House – the event organized for 25 years now by American Friends of Lubavitch (Chabad). This year, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke raised the crane to light the candle with American Friends of Lubavitch executive vice president Rabbi Levi Shemtov. Shemtov organizes a slew of lightings around the capital, including one Monday night at the World Bank, and this coming Monday at the Pentagon.
CAP: President Donald Trump speaks at a Hanukkah reception in the East Room of the White House, Dec 6, 2018. (Oliver Contreras/Pool/Getty Images)