"America's support for our friend and ally Israel remains unshakable during these difficult times," he said.
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The event was attended by leaders of the Jewish and Israeli communities in the US, Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren, two Jewish Supreme Court justices Ruth Ginsburg and Elana Kagan, as well as US cabinet members and congressmen.
A choir of Jewish cadets from the West Point Military Academy led the crowd in song.
With wife Michelle by his side, Obama said, "Tonight as we gather to light the sixth candle of Hanukkah, we remember an enduring story of resilience and optimism.
"Over 2,000 years ago a tyrant forbade the Israelites from practicing their religion and his forces desecrated the Holy Temple. So Judas the Maccabee gathered a small band of believers to fight the suppression and against all odds they prevailed.
"The Maccabees liberated Jerusalem, restored the faith of its people. When they went to reclaim the temple the people of Jerusalem received another gift from God – the oil that should have lasted only one night burnt for eight."
For the service, the White House used a 90-year-old menorah from the Temple Israel synagogue in Long Beach, NY that had been badly damaged by Hurricane Sandy.
"We pray that its light will carry victims of Sandy and all Americans to a brighter tomorrow," Obama said.
After lighting the candles, the crowd sang Hanukkah songs and the president shook hands with his guests.
The 600 guests enjoyed Kosher food brought to them by Chabad emissary in Washington Rabbi Levy Shemtov.
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