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2009 White House Hanukkah party expected to be smaller

After a mix-up in 2005 resulted in some Orthodox Jews eating un-kosher lamb chops, Laura Bush arranged for the entire White House kitchen to be ritually cleaned and declared kosher by religious authorities, said Rabbi Levi Shemtov, the Washington representative of the international Chabad Lubavitch movement, a Hasidic orthodox group.

The lamb chop incident was the closest thing to a White House Hanukkah scandal since 1993, when the ponytail of a 6-year-old girl caught fire at a menorah lighting. Clinton, the first president to light a menorah in the White House, snuffed out the fire with his hands.

Shemtov, who helped Bush make the White House kosher and was at each one of her Hanukkah parties, said each year he gets about 100 calls from people who hope he can help them get in to the party.

Even for those with connections, the Hanukkah party can be a tough ticket to score. All 40 Jewish members of Congress get invited -- 37 Democrats, two independents who caucus with the Democrats and Rep. Eric Cantor of Virginia, the lone Jewish Republican -- and their spouses. Add prominent Jews in government and at foreign embassies, heads of major Jewish organizations and schools, and a few favorite rabbis, and it's easy to see how quickly 400 tickets can disappear.

To Shemtov, who said he is getting an invitation to the White House, the high-profile party has a spiritual significance.

Hanukkah, he said, is the only holiday when Jews are instructed by the Talmud to publicly celebrate the miracle behind the story, which is the victory of the Jews over their oppressors in the 2nd century, the victory of light over darkness.

"That's the whole point," he said, "so I'm not going to kvetch about tickets."

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