Monday, December 26, 2016

National Menorah Lighting Ceremony, With More Tension Than Usual

As reported by WTOP, yesterday in Washington, on the Ellipse near the White House, American Friends of Lubavitch sponsored the lighting of the National Menorah.  According to the Washington Examiner, the ceremony was more tense than usual. Representing the Obama Administration, Acting Treasury Undersecretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence Adam Szubin helped light the Menorah after remarks concluding with a hope "that our lights steadily increase, until the world is illuminated by a continual and unwavering light." But Rabbi Levi Shemtov representing the event sponsors used the theme of light to criticize the Obama Administration for its decision last week not to veto a U.N. Security Council resolution sharply criticizing Israel's settlement policies.  Shemtov said:
... [S]ome of us are so sad at what happened there with regard to Israel. We must remember that the way to counter any darkness, any disappointment is not with harsh rhetoric, not with anger, but when we create light, the darkness dissipates.
Meanwhile, the Smithsonian's SmartNews last week carried an interesting account of how the tradition of a national menorah began in 1979 when Abraham Shemtov pressed the idea:
... [T]he secretary of the interior initially denied him a permit to put a menorah on government property, on the grounds that it would violate the First Amendment.... What happened next was a classic piece of Washington insider work. Shemtov ... "called his friend Stu Eizenstat, an adviser to President Jimmy Carter.  Eizenstat gave the secretary a choice: Either approve the permit or deny the National Christmas Tree’s permit too. If he disobeyed, Eizenstat would take the matter straight to Carter, who would side with Eizenstat—a major embarrassment for the secretary."  Shemtov got the permit, and a tradition was born.