Remarks by the President at Evening Hanukkah Reception
8:03 P.M. EST
THE PRESIDENT: Hello, everybody!
THE PRESIDENT: Happy Hanukkah!
AUDIENCE: Happy Hanukkah!
THE PRESIDENT: This is a particularly good-looking Hanukkah crowd.
MRS. OBAMA: It’s good. (Laughter.)
THE PRESIDENT: It's very impressive.
Now, every year, Michelle and I like to invite just a few friends over for a small Hanukkah celebration. (Laughter.) Nothing fancy. This is the second year we’ve invited so many friends that we ended up having to have two Hanukkah parties. (Applause.) We had one earlier this afternoon. I have to tell you, this is the better party. (Applause.) Don't tell anybody because --
MRS. OBAMA: He said that earlier.
THE PRESIDENT: I said that earlier. (Laughter.) But I really mean it this time. (Applause.)
We are blessed to have so many friends and dignitaries here. I want to welcome Israeli Ambassador Ron Dermer, who’s here, and his wife, Rhoda –- (applause) -- all our friends from the State of Israel, who remind us that the bonds between our two countries are unbreakable. (Applause.)
We have leaders from across my administration, including our outstanding Secretary of the Treasury, Jack Lew. (Applause.) Council of Economic Advisers Chair, Jason Furman. Give Jason some more -- Jason actually is the guy who gives me the jobs report every month. Ever since he’s come on they’ve been really good. So give Jason a big round of applause. (Applause.)
National Economic Council Director Jeff Zients is here. (Applause.) We've got the Governor of Maryland, Martin O’Malley. (Applause.) We’ve got all kinds of members of Congress here, including our DNC Chair, Debbie Wasserman Schultz. (Applause.) The president of the Anti-Defamation League, Abe Foxman. (Applause.) And a member of my team who’s leaving to become ADL’s next president, Jonathan Greenblatt. (Applause.)
Now, I'm going to begin by saying what a glorious day this is -- because, after five years, American Alan Gross is free. (Applause.) As all of you know, he was arrested five years ago by Cuban authorities simply for helping ordinary Cubans -- including a small Jewish community in Cuba –- just for access information on the Internet. Today, after 1,840 days, he is back where he belongs -- with his wife Judy and his family. And as you heard Alan say today, this is his best Hanukkah.
From his cell, Alan once wrote, “I refuse to accept that my country would leave me behind.” And he is right. We’re committed to the principle that no American ever gets left behind. We do everything in our power to bring Americans home. So we thank all those who helped to make sure that Alan was never forgotten. And as now we’re moving forward, we know that the historic changes I announced today will mean greater opportunity and progress for both Americans and for Cubans, including the small but proud Jewish community in Cuba. (Applause.)
So we are here to celebrate a story that took place more than 2,000 years ago, when a small group of Maccabees rose up to defeat their far more powerful oppressors. In the face of -- what do we got playing there? (Laughter.) What you got on your phone? I was trying to figure out the ringtone. (Laughter.)
Where was I? Small group of Maccabees -- right! Rose up to defeat their far more powerful oppressors. In the face of overwhelming odds, they reclaimed their city, and the right to worship as they choose.
And after their victory, the Maccabees found there wasn’t enough oil to keep the flame in their temple alive. But they lit the oil that they had. And miraculously, the flame that was supposed to burn for just one night burned for eight. The Hanukkah story teaches us that our light can shine brighter than even we could imagine -- with a little bit of faith, and making sure that it's up to us to provide that first spark.
The menorahs that we’re about to light remind us of our power to make miracles happen. It was one of four that were brought here from Israel, and was built by children in Yemin Orde, a village in Israel founded in 1953 to provide a safe haven to orphans and young immigrants after the Holocaust. More than 60 years later, Yemin Orde still gives children in Israel a shot at a brighter future. And tonight, Atakalit Tesfaye, a graduate of Yemin Orde, will help us light the Hanukkah candles. (Applause.)
He will be joined by Dr. Adam Levine. Now, I just want to be clear, this is not -- (laughter) -- Adam Levine, People Magazine’s Sexiest Man Alive -- (laughter) -- although he’s a pretty sexy guy. (Laughter.) This is actually Dr. Adam Levine, Time’s Person of the Year. (Applause.) Along with his compatriots, Adam, who recently returned from Liberia, has been doing heroic work for Ebola patients, saving lives. (Applause.)
Yemin Orde is just one village. But the story of Hanukkah teaches us that there’s no such thing as a futile act of courage, or a small act of faith. One doctor can save a life. One school can help a child. That life, that child may change a village. One person can be the spark that changes the world.
So as we gather with family and friends, let’s give thanks to the miracles that we’ve been blessed with in our own lives -- miracles large and small -- same ringtone. (Laughter.) During this Festival of Lights, let’s commit ourselves to making new miracles, and to sharing them with the world.
I’d now like to invite Rabbi Angela Buchdahl -- from Manhattan -- (applause) -- to lead us in the blessing and candle-lighting. (Applause.)
8:11 P.M. EST