The Obama White House throws its first Hanukkah party on Wednesday night, and the White House kitchen has been "koshered" -- undergone a special cleansing -- in order to serve kosher food at the reception President Obama and First Lady Michelle are hosting.
Obama's first Hanukkah celebration as president has not been without some controversy. Stories have appeared in the mainstream and Jewish press saying that the White House is shortchanging Jewish supporters -- who figured heavily in Obama's fundraising and political success -- by being stingy with the invitations. But Politics Daily has learned that the number of invitees for the Wednesday event is more than were invited in all but one of the previous years the party has been thrown, starting in 2001.
The White House told me 550 guests are invited this year. During the Bush years, there were 265 invitees in 2001; 373 in 2002; 500 in 2003; 387 in 2004; 427 in 2005; 477 in 2006; 584 in 2007; and 520 in 2008.
I've seen a few reports that the Obama White House cut back its list from 800 guests; that's just a bubbe meise, a good Yiddish phrase that means, roughly, "old wives' tale." (In more modern times, it might be used to describe an urban legend.)
On the food front, I was at the White House holiday party on Monday (technically, by the way, not called a Christmas party) and the fare was fine but very unkosher: shrimp, for example, and dairy and meat products served on the same table. There were also tiny potato latkes (pancakes), a traditional Hanukkah food.
For the Hanukkah gathering, the White House has ordered food from a kosher catering company. The White House kitchen has to be koshered because the food will be served up from there. (Once kosher food makes contact with non-kosher food or kitchen items, it is no longer kosher.) Rabbi Levi Shemtov -- Chabad's man in Washington -- from the Lubavitch Center is supervising the koshering effort, as he did during the Bush years when the same process took place.
This from a White House source: "The White House silver and other serving items will be dipped into a specially prepared pot of boiling water, the stovetops and ovens will be raised to a very high temperature and the countertops will be cleaned and covered before the food is prepared for serving at the reception."
Updated: For those who are very strictly kosher, here are more details: Rabbi Shemtov is koshering the White House kitchen in cooperation with the Rabbinical Council of Greater Washington
All meats are Glatt Kosher,
All baked goods are Pas Yisroel,
All wines are Mevushal,
All foods have been prepared Lemihadrin with a Mashgiach Temidi.
To translate: they are going by the book. end update
This is the sixth night of Hanukkah. A candle lighting will take place, using a menorah from the Jewish Museum in Prague. The children of a soldier deployed overseas -- a boy, 5 and a girl, 6 -- will light the menorah. Kol Sasson, an a cappella group from the University of Maryland, will perform.