A week after downplaying "non-religious Christmas" plans at the White House, the Times returned to the issue Friday by downplaying official Washington's "feverish" "fuss" over the White House's downsized Hanukkah party.
The headline and text of the piece by Rachel Swarns, aka Michelle Obama's lady-in-waiting, suggested it was much ado about nothing: "Washington Fuss Over White House Hanukkah Party."
At the first Hanukkah party in the Obama White House, a Jewish student choir will sing in sweet harmony, the two young children of a soldier deployed in Iraq will light a 19th-century silver menorah from Prague and President Obama and his wife, Michelle, will greet more than 500 guests in a celebration that is expected to spill from the State Room to the East Room.
But to the dismay of some administration officials, the plans for next week's party - one of the hottest holiday events for the nation's Jewish elite - have been overtaken by feverish debate over the size of the guest list, the language on the invitations and what this says (or does not say) about Mr. Obama's relationship with Jews.
President George W. Bush, who began the tradition of White House Hanukkah parties, invited 600 people to his last party, administration officials say. But rumors spread wildly, first in the Israeli press and then locally, that President Bush had invited 800 people and that the Obamas were planning to invite only 400. (Administration officials say they have invited 550 people.)
The invitations have also caused some consternation because they make no mention of Hanukkah, inviting guests to "a holiday reception" on Dec. 16.
Rabbi Shemtov, who has attended Hanukkah parties at the White House, said he raised an eyebrow when he received his invitation, but noted that the Bush administration once sent invitations out with Christmas trees on them.
"This is all one big overblown latke," the rabbi said.
"I feel that we need to save our communal kvetching in reserve for when it's more called for and really matters," he continued.
Jewish Democrats accused Republicans of using the party for political ammunition. Advisers to Mr. Obama described the focus on the guest list as disappointing.
"Hanukkah is a wonderful holiday to celebrate, but that's not the whole ballgame, by any means, in terms of outreach to the Jewish community," said Susan Sher, one of the president's two liaisons to Jewish groups.
Rabbi Shemtov was also featured in the story's photo caption, repeating the "one big overblown latke," crack.