Doug Emhoff, husband to Vice President Kamala Harris, lit the first candle of the National Menorah on Sunday for the first night of Hanukkah.
The first Jewish spouse of a president or a vice president, Emhoff has publicly highlighted various tenets of his faith while his wife is in office.
“On this first night of Hanukkah, Jews all around the world are going to light their menorahs in the windows of their homes — just like the vice president and I are going to do later tonight at our home here in DC,” Emhoff said during the ceremony. “As we light this menorah on this lawn of the free, let us rededicate ourselves to doing everything we can to shine a light on hate, so we can put an end to hate.”
“Let us remember always that Jewish history is American history; our values, American values,” he continued.
Earlier this month, Emhoff announced that he and Harris had affixed a mezuzah to the vice presidential residence in a private ceremony in October. That moment marked the first time an executive home has carried the abiding sign of sanctity of a Jewish home.
And in March, Emhoff led the White House’s first Passover event, livestreamed for the masses days before the actual holiday.
The tradition of the lighting dates back to 1979, when President Jimmy Carter was in office. But it was President Ronald Reagan who officially designated the candelabrum the National Menorah.
Then-Vice President Joe Biden, a deeply religious man himself, spoke at the ceremony in 2014.
“The truth is that Jewish heritage, Jewish culture, Jewish values are an essential, such an essential part of who we are,” Biden said at the time, donning a black yarmulke. “It’s fair to say that Jewish heritage is American heritage. That’s who we are as a people.”
The lighting serves as catalyst — jump-starting the “Festival of Lights” across the country and globe, according to the National Menorah website.
The holiday ceremony draws in tens of millions of viewers, they say, cementing it as a symbol for the start of the Hanukkah celebrations.
“In this way, we reaffirm the celebration of our freedom, inspired by the historic and present victory of right over might, light over darkness, and understanding and justice over intolerance and bigotry,” the National Menorah’s website says.
“As the vice president said just a few weeks ago, we must fight anti-Semitism and hate of every kind, and call it out when we see it,” Emhoff said in his remarks Sunday. “We know that this hate is horrible but not at all new, a fact that the vice president and I were reminded of at Yad Vashem in Israel a few years ago, and just a few weeks ago at the Shoah Memorial in France.”
“But we also know that the story of Hanukkah is the history of a people who do not simply carry on in the face of tragedy, but the ones who are committed to their faith, proud of their tradition and grateful for the many miracles and blessings in all our lives.”
This story has been updated with additional developments Sunday.
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