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White House Hanukkah Blues

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We are now welcoming the first holiday season of President Barack Obama's administration. That means it's time to focus on what one GOP operative told me is the most important issue of the year for any Jewish organization in Washington, DC -- how many invitations can be had for the White House Chanukah party. Yes, more important than stopping Iranian nukes, of greater significance than working toward Middle East peace, and a higher priority than passing health care reform is the question of ... who gets to watch the lighting of the chanukia at the Obama's.

This is no joke! The Jerusalem Post ran an entire piece expressing criticism of the White House because Obama's first Chanukah party would not have as many invited guests as the last one under the auspices of President George W. Bush. According to the article, this reduction in invitations could be viewed as giving the "cold shoulder" to the community or even as a purposeful snub of Jewish Americans.

Last week, one of Bush's Jewish liaisons, Tevi Troy, penned an op-ed for JTA that ruminated about whether the guest list reduction (the Obama administration is only planning to invite 400-500 Jewish Americans to this year's party) is an indication of "studied callousness." Troy breathlessly recounted a series of other right-wing Jewish complaints against the administration and went on to speculate about whether this Chanukah gathering was just another sign that the President takes the Jews "for granted."

That is absolute nonsense. One of the reasons I have loved working in the nation's capital for Jewish organizations is because the Jewish community has had a serious policy agenda -- not just on Israel, but also on issues ranging from civil rights to combating hunger. Perhaps this thread of stories complaining about the lack of tickets to a White House holiday party is simply a reflection of conservative Jews searching for ways to knock the President; I hope so. Heaven help us if we really begin to act as if party invitations are what our community is all about.

Jewish Americans have a lot of important fish to fry in Washington. In case the Chanukah grousers have forgotten, we are in the midst of the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression; many people are suffering. Shame, if not morality, should drive members of our community to think twice before complaining about too few invitations to a holiday party at the White House.