President Barack Obama presided over a Hanukkah reception Wednesday night at the White House and turned to introduce Rachel Isaacs, rabbi at Colby College and Beth Israel Congregation “in Waterville, Maine, which I said sounds cold.”

“But first,” Obama continued, “I have to get a box, because she’s a little shorter than I am.”

The 33-year-old Waterville rabbi approached the lectern to deliver invocation remarks. As she looked out at the crowd, Isaacs could see U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, one of two Jewish women on the court and a personal hero to Isaacs.

Isaacs will never forget the experience.

“It was incredible; it was amazing, surreal,” Isaacs said in an interview Thursday, just after returning to Colby, where she was looking forward to an evening staff appreciation dinner. “The opportunity to represent Waterville was amazing.”

Isaacs said she was chosen to deliver the remarks by the White House’s liaison to the Jewish community, although she’s not exactly sure why she was selected and thinks they may have common friends.

When Isaacs stepped to the lectern, she recalled the story of the first human shivering in darkness, but then recalled rabbinical teachings of the coming winter solstice, when “the days became longer, lighter and warmer once again.” She also touched on Hanukkah, which starts Dec. 24 and runs through Jan. 1, noting that not everyone agrees “on a singular reason why we celebrate.”

“Hanukkah is a festival that teaches us it is always darkest before the dawn, and that it is not foolish or naive to hold on to hope,” she said.

It’s also a reminder, she said, of how we also should rededicate ourselves to our community and nation, “and to the privileges and challenges of citizenship.”

“The battle for soul of our nation will not be won with swords or muskets, or even verbal daggers; because as Jews, we know the spiritual is political and the political is spiritual,” Isaacs said. “We will illuminate our country by widening our hearts.”

After her remarks, Chemi Peres and Mika Almog, son and granddaughter of former President of Israel Shimon Peres, lit the Menorah on stage.

Isaacs said that after the reception, she got to speak with the Obamas, and she loved how the president pulled over a box for her at the podium.

“I was amazed how much a mensch President Obama is,” she said.

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