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Happy Chanukah

22/12/16 10:04:29


On Saturday night we light the first candle for Chanukah. The menorah should be placed on a window sill or door entrance so that it is visible to those outside. The Chanukiah (the special menorah with 8 branches plus a shamas) is meant to light up the world.

When I was growing up in New York, there were no public displays of Chanukah and menorahs; of course, there were and are many public displays of Christmas, most notably the giant tree in Rockefeller Plaza. The Lubavitcher Rebbe inaugurated a massive Chanukah-awareness campaign in 1973. In 1974 there was a menorah lighting ceremony at the Liberty Bell at Independence Hall in Philadelphia. In 1975 rock promoter Bill Graham (who was Jewish) sponsored the Chabad menorah in San Francisco. In 1977 Mayor Abraham Beame (also Jewish) lit a big menorah in New York. In 1979 President Jimmy Carter attended a ceremony to light the National Menorah in Lafayette Park in Washington DC. Starting with President Bill Clinton in 1993, there has been an annual Chanukah menorah lighting at the White House.

The largest menorah in the world is in New York on the corner of Fifth Avenue and 59th Street, at the edge of Central Park, in Grand Army Plaza. It was designed by Israeli artist Yaacov Agam (himself the son of an Orthodox rabbi), based on the original menorah in the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. It stands 32-feet high and weighs 4,000 pounds, gold-coloured and made of steel. The design was personally approved by the Rebbe. It was unveiled in December 2005.

While I normally visit New York during warmer times of the year, I was there in December ten years ago. I noticed that people said “happy holidays” or “season’s greetings” instead of “Merry Christmas.” A third or more of the shops along Fifth Avenue had menorahs in their front windows. And, when I watched NBC’s Today show in the mornings, there was a menorah with the right number of lights on a ledge in the background. Certainly, in New York and in America generally, Chanukah is in the public mind. Here, too, in Sydney and Australia, let us light up our world.

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