WASHINGTON (JTA) — For the eight-day-long holiday of Hanukkah, one menorah will be lit in the office of Second Gentleman Doug Emhoff; another will sit in the office of his wife, Vice President Kamala Harris; and a third will illuminate their home.
Each menorah carries symbolism, representing the triumphs or tragedies of Jewish history.
The Second Couple two years ago inaugurated a tradition of lighting Hanukkah candles at their residence. This year, both Harris’s and Emhoff’s offices — both in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building on the White House campus — will have the candelabras as well. At least two menorahs will light up each evening: the one in the residence and the one in Emhoff’s office, where he will be joined by his team for the ritual.
Each of the three melds joy and grief, a nod to a year that included both the trial of the Pittsburgh synagogue shooter and Hamas’s October 7 onslaught on Israel that saw 1,200 people killed, mostly civilians, and another 240 abducted to the Gaza Strip, in the worst slaughter of Jews since the Holocaust.
The menorah in the residence is on loan from the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, the site of the 2018 shooting, which was the worst antisemitic attack in US history. It is one of two designed for the site of the massacre by Daniel Libeskind, the renowned architect who designed the Jewish Museum in Berlin.
Libeskind presented the menorahs to the reconstituted synagogue, museum and memorial center this year on October 27, the fifth anniversary of the attack. Emhoff met Libeskind when he toured Berlin earlier this year, and he has twice visited the Tree of Life synagogue.
The menorah in Emhoff’s office is designed by Erwin Thieberger, a Holocaust survivor and coppersmith who lived in Washington’s Maryland suburbs and who modeled his menorahs after those he had made out of flattened nails and scrap metal in the concentration camps.
This menorah is on loan from the recently inaugurated Lillian and Albert Small Capital Jewish Museum in Washington, DC. It was donated to the museum by Thieberger’s late rabbi, Tzvi Porath of Ohr Kodesh Congregation, a Conservative synagogue in Chevy Chase, Maryland. Another Thieberger menorah featured in the Hanukkah lighting ceremony at the White House in 2015, when Barack Obama was president.
The menorah on display at the entrance to Harris’s office is on loan from the Jewish Museum in New York. Designed by Josef Haller, it was presented in 1935 to Kahilath Jakob, a small prayer room in Vienna, one of 60 or so Jewish places of worship in the city to survive the Nazi occupation of Austria.
“The Vice President and I want to thank the Jewish Museum in New York, Lillian and Albert Small Capital Jewish Museum, and the reimagined Tree of Life for lending us such special and historic menorahs in celebration of Hanukkah,” Emhoff said Thursday in a statement to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. “These menorahs are incredibly meaningful and deeply impactful. Each one reminds us that we must continue our efforts to combat antisemitism and all forms of hate, while living openly, proudly, and with joy as Jews.”
Emhoff spearheaded a panel that shaped the Biden administration’s antisemitism strategy, which was unveiled earlier this year. He has embraced a role that he has said surprised him, as a positive role model for American Jews.
In 2021, the Second Couple’s menorah came from the home of a businessman, Aaron Feuerstein, who was revered for paying employees for months while he rebuilt a factory destroyed in a fire in 1995. It was a nod to the businesses who sought to keep their staffs employed throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.
Emhoff lit the “national menorah” later Thursday on the Ellipse in front of the White House, a decades-long tradition administered by the Chabad Hasidic movement. On Sunday, he and Harris will host a formal Hanukkah lighting and party at their residence at the Naval Observatory in northwest DC.
US President Joe Biden and First Lady Jill Biden will host their own Hanukkah lighting and party at the White House on Sunday night. A spokeswoman for the First Lady said the menorah in the White House is the same one they inaugurated last year, the first menorah custom-built for White House use.
“It’s made of historic wood from the beams of this house, rescued when President Truman renovated this building,” Jill Biden said at least year’s lighting. “Its hand-hammered silver cups are meant to magnify the glow of the candles, their beauty reminding us both [of] the Hanukkah miracle and the joy it inspired.”
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