WASHINGTON (AP) _ President Clinton and first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton joined a group of schoolchildren Friday in lighting a menorah to commemorate the first night of Hanukkah.

The first couple greeted 20 fourth-graders from the Gesher Jewish Day School in suburban Virginia, who recited a prayer and three blessings in Hebrew, then sang ``Maoz Tzur,'' or ``Rock of Ages,'' while student Max Moline lighted a small candle on the menorah.

During the Oval Office ceremony, Mrs. Clinton explained that the menorah was modeled after the Breed Street Shul, a Los Angeles synagogue designated a historic treasure as part of Mrs. Clinton's ongoing Save America's Treasures preservation project. She said she planned to highlight the synagogue during this year's holiday season.

Hanukkah, also known as the Festival of Lights, is an eight-day celebration commemorating the Jewish uprising in the second century B.C. against the Greek-Syrian kingdom, which had tried to impose its culture and put statues of Greek gods in the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem.

According to legend, a small group of Jewish warriors tried to rekindle the temple's eternal flame, but discovered they had enough oil for only one day. In what is considered a miracle, however, the oil lasted eight days.

During Hanukkah, Jews light an additional candle at sundown each day until the candelabra is full.