Three Menorahs: Three Stories

(Photo by Dov Harrington Creative Commons license)
(Photo by Dov Harrington Creative Commons license)

Vice President Kamala Harris and her husband, Second Gentleman Doug Emhoff, are celebrating—along with millions of Jews the world over—a bittersweet Hanukkah.

With antisemitic statistics soaring since the Hamas terrorist attacks; with the presidents of three major universities reduced to dithering and temporizing while their Jewish students feel increasingly unsafe; when Jewish families felt uncertain about celebrating a millennia-old victory of light over darkness while the smoke and flame of a war for survival still rage, the twin elements of Jewish history—despair and joy—show in sharp relief.

The Hanukkah menorahs the Second Couple lit this holiday reflect in their stories and symbolism those very elements.

One menorah is in Emhoff’s office; another in his wife’s—both offices in the Eisenhower Executive Building on the White House grounds. And the third is in their home.

The latter comes from the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, on loan from that house of worship which was the site, in 2018, of the worst antisemitic attack on American soil. Designed by architect Daniel Libeskind, it was one of two menorahs presented to the now-transfigured synagogue, museum and memorial center this year on Oct. 27, the fifth anniversary of the attack.

The menorah in the Vice President’s office dates to 1935. It used to occupy a prayer room—Kahilath Jakob—in Vienna. The tiny worship space—not even a synagogue—was one of the few to survive the Nazi occupation of Austria. Designed by Josef Haller and on loan from the Jewish Museum in New York, the still-shiny blue menorah with eight golden cups for candles, and a ninth for the shamash, the master candle that lights the other eight, positioned in the center above a star of David, sits on a table at the entrance to the Vice President’s Ceremonial Office.

The third menorah—the one lit nightly by Emhoff with his office staff—has the most searing story. Its designer was a Holocaust survivor. A coppersmith by trade, Erwin Thieberger gathered what bits of metal and cement nails he could and soldered the scraps into menorahs to dispel a measure of the dark despair of Auschwitz with the light of Hanukkah.

Thieberger lived out his life in the suburbs of the nation’s capital and continued to make menorahs modeled on those make-shift defiances he cobbled together during the war. One such menorah graced the East Room of the White House in a Hanukkah celebration hosted by President and Mrs. Obama in 2015.

The Thieberger menorah is on loan from the new Lillian and Albert Small Capital Jewish Museum in Washington, D.C. Thieberger’s late rabbi, Tzvi Porath, of Ohr Kodesh Congregation, donated it to the museum.

Of the three menorahs Emhoff said, “The Vice President and I want to thank the Jewish Museum in New York, Lillian and Albert Small Capital Jewish Museum, and the reimagined Tree of Life for lending us such special and historic menorahs in celebration of Hanukkah. These menorahs are incredibly meaningful and deeply impactful. Each one reminds us that we must continue our efforts to combat antisemitism and all forms of hate, while living openly, proudly, and with joy as Jews.”


From its beginnings, the Church of Scientology has recognized that freedom of religion is a fundamental human right. In a world where conflicts are often traceable to intolerance of others’ religious beliefs and practices, the Church has, for more than 50 years, made the preservation of religious liberty an overriding concern.

The Church publishes this blog to help create a better understanding of the freedom of religion and belief and provide news on religious freedom and issues affecting this freedom around the world.

The Founder of the Scientology religion is L. Ron Hubbard and Mr. David Miscavige is the religion’s ecclesiastical leader.

For more information, visit the Scientology website or Scientology Network.  

antisemitism Hanukkah Judaism Kamala Harris Doug Emhoff