(From left) Cissie Swig, Vice President Kamala Harris, Sam Lauter (in back) and Rabbi Sydney Mintz at the White House Hanukkah party, Dec. 1, 2021. (Photo/Instagram)
(From left) Cissie Swig, Vice President Kamala Harris, Sam Lauter (in back) and Rabbi Sydney Mintz at the White House Hanukkah party, Dec. 1, 2021. (Photo/Instagram)

Local Jewish leaders rep Bay Area at White House Hanukkah party

The annual White House Hanukkah party, one of the hottest tickets in D.C. in any year, was a more intimate affair than usual this year, reduced in size by pandemic concerns. Four Bay Area Jewish movers and shakers were able to get coveted tickets: philanthropist Roselyne Cissie Swig, who was a donor to Vice President Kamala Harris early in her political career; Rabbi Syndey Mintz of Congregation Emanu-El in San Francisco; political activist Sam Lauter, a board member of the Democratic Majority for Israel; and Ilana Kaufman, executive director of the Jews of Color Initiative.

“It was an honor to represent the San Francisco Jewish community at the White House Menorah Lighting tonight!” Mintz wrote in an Instagram post.

Said Kaufman in a post of photos from the event on Facebook, “It was an honor, a privilege and so much fun to join the President, Dr. Biden, the Vice President and the Second Gentleman for Chanukah!”

The Wednesday night gathering in the East Room of the White House — limited this year to a modest 150 people — heavily featured Doug Emhoff, Harris’ husband and the first Jewish spouse of a president or vice president.

“A few weeks ago, I visited my childhood home in Oak Ridge, New Jersey,” Emhoff said. “And I actually got to peer into the house and I saw the window sill where our family menorah sat. To think that today, I’m here before you as the first Jewish spouse of an American president or vice president celebrating Hanukkah — it’s not lost on me that I stand before you all, on behalf of all the Jewish families and communities out there across our country.”

In their social media Hanukkah message, Harris and Emhoff made a point of posing at the window of the vice presidential residence as they lit their menorah.

President Joe Biden, when he spoke, drew blunt comparisons between his policies and those of his predecessor. Introducing his Jewish Cabinet members, he asked Merrick Garland, the attorney general, to stand up.

“He is practicing the Jewish tradition of restoring justice to the Justice Department,” he said, alluding to allegations that Trump made the ostensibly independent department a vassal for his authoritarian tendencies.

Biden, who in part launched his 2019 campaign because he said he was appalled that Trump had equivocated in condemning the deadly 2017 neo-Nazi march in Charlottesville, Virginia, also implicitly chided Republicans for holding up the nomination of Deborah Lipstadt, the Holocaust historian, to become the State Department’s antisemitism monitor.

“We have to stand against the resurgence of this tide of antisemitism and other forms of intolerance and hate here at home and around the world,” Biden said. “In that effort, there is nobody more qualified than professor Deborah Lipstadt to be our special envoy to monitor and combat antisemitism.”

First lady Jill Biden cast the occasion as a transition out of a period of darkness, referring to the emergence from the isolation of the coronavirus pandemic, and framing as heroes two communities that have been vilified by portions of the right: medical personnel and teachers.

Hanukkah is “a story of finding the courage to stand up for what’s right, even when the odds are against us, of faith that finds the foundations of our future in the wreckage of our past and a hope that spreads from the heart, like the flame of shamash,” she said.


Content distributed by the Jewish Telegraphic Agency news service.