I understand that this is one of the world's largest Menorahs, but I didn't quite understand how large it was until I learned we'd have to use a lift to take us up to reach the candles. [Laughter.] I'm not airborne, but I do now understand why Rabbi [Levi] Shemtov [Director, Washington Office, American Friends of Lubavitch] asked me if I'm afraid of heights. [Laughter.] Let me just say, I’m committed no matter what. [Laughter.]
It's good to see so many young people here with your parents. I would like to commend the winners for their essays about the meaning of Chanukah. In fact, let's congratulate all of the children who have submitted essays. [Applause.]
You have not only captured the spirit of our celebration, but you have reminded us how important our children are in preserving the wealth of our culture and passing along the richness of our values. You are America's culture, America's future.
By your presence here today with your families and friends, you have answered President Bush's call to continue living our lives with courage.
Living in courage for freedom is, in fact, what we celebrate today with this holiday. Except for one Sunday in 1941, Americans hadn’t really known war on our own soil in almost 140 years. But, on a Tuesday last September, the enemies of freedom brought war home to us once again.
As it was 60 years ago after the attack on Pearl Harbor, we find the Chanukah season a time of great challenge for our country and for the men and women in uniform who spend their holidays far from home in the defense of freedom. But today we find strength in the words of the Psalmist, Psalm 27: "Hope in the Lord. Be strong, and let your heart be valiant."
That hope was in the hearts of the Maccabees centuries ago when they bravely struggled against tyranny and fought for the right to worship as they chose. They fought against overwhelming odds to defend their faith and the freedom to embrace it. As in generations past, the fight to survive and live in freedom continues today for the people of Israel. Their struggle reminds us that no matter how much freedom is threatened, no matter the sacrifice to keep it, the hunger for freedom will not die. It is mankind's ancient dream.
As the President reminded us last Sunday before meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Sharon, "There are some in the world who do not want us to achieve peace. There are some that every chance they have will use violence and terror to disrupt any progress. We must not allow them to succeed."
As we light the Menorah, we remember similar determination, a victory and the miracle of the flame that burned for eight days—a symbol of hope against violence and oppression.
And we may also recall that freedom itself is like a light. Where it lives, where it is seen, it serves as a beacon to all others.
The light of freedom dispels the darkness of its enemies. We can see this victory over the darkness of evil dawning today in Afghanistan. American men and women in uniform, Jews, Christians, Muslims—Americans of all faiths—defend freedom for us, for the people of Afghanistan, and for those who love freedom the world over. Let us give them our thanks. [Applause.]
As you light your own Menorahs and bring this message of light and hope into your own homes, we'll have yet another reminder that each one of us is part of the ancient dream of freedom—part of defending it, part of preserving it. And all of us who are fortunate enough to live in this great country should give thanks to those great Founders with their vision of a nation where religion would be a matter of personal conscience and people could worship in freedom.
Our first President, George Washington, in a famous letter to the Jewish congregation of Newport, Rhode Island, wrote, "It is now no more that toleration is spoken of as if it was by the indulgence of one class of people that another enjoys the exercise of their inherent natural rights. For happily," he said, "the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection should behave themselves as good citizens and giving it on all occasions their effective support."
Washington closed his letter with a thought that is fitting for our celebration and with which I will close, too. He said, "May the Lord of all mercies scatter light and not darkness upon our paths."
Happy Chanukah. May God bless America. And may God bless the defenders of freedom's light—our men and women in uniform who serve us so nobly and so faithfully. Thank you. [Applause.]