From Sunlen Miller:
In an East Room reception to celebrate the second night of Hanukkah, President Obama started on a somber note, addressing the forest fires in Israel.
"I want to begin by offering our deepest condolences to the families and loved ones, and all those who died as a result of the terrible forest fire in Northern Israel," Obama said. "Our thoughts and prayers are with everyone in Israel who is affected by this tragedy and the families and loved ones."
The president said that the United States is acting to help "our Israeli friends" to respond, "because that’s what friends do."
The Hanukkah celebration in the East Room tonight brought out three justices of the Supreme Court, as Obama pointed out, members of Congress, rabbis and lay leaders, artists and astronauts and members of the administration. There were 500 guests in all. The president said that at Hanukkah the tiny candles lit each year remind people of faith and perseverance.
"As we prepare to light another candle on the menorah, let us remember the sacrifice that others have made," Obama said, "That miracle gave hope to all those who had been struggling in despair."
The menorah and the family who helped light it both had significance. The menorah was loaned from Congregation Beth Israel in New Orleans, a synagogue hit by Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
"Five years ago when Hurricane Katrina hit, the synagogue was covered by eight feet of water," Obama said. "Later the cleanup crew dug through the rubble. They discovered this menorah caked in dirt and mold. Today it stands as a reminder of the tragedy and a source of an inspiration for the future."
The president said that feeling is shared by Susan Retik, whose family helped light the candle on the menorah this evening. Retik’s husband was killed on 9/11 and she has since cofounded “Beyond the 11th,” a group that tries to help Afghan widows with their own journies.
"She turned her personal loss into a humanitarian mission," the president said.
After the blessing and the lighting of the candle the president invited everyone downstairs for pictures with himself and the first lady.
"Yes, they will be able to Photoshop my lip for the picture," he assured the guests.