The Festival of Lights has come to New York City with the world's largest menorah set up in its annual home in the city just in time for Hanukkah.
The Hanukkah menorah was set up last Thursday but will be lit for the first time Sunday night when Jews around the world light the first candle of the holiday, with further candles lit each night until the last night of Hanukkah, December 25.
The giant menorah itself is nothing new to the city, being a New York City Hanukkah icon first designed back in 1986 by Israeli artist Yaacov Agam.
Its status as the world's largest menorah, standing at nearly 11 meters in height (or 36 feet, two times "hai" which is 18), has been certified by the Guinness Book of World Records.
The menorah itself is actually a hanukkiah, a special candelabra for the holiday as the word menorah simply means lamp in Hebrew.
Every year, this Hanukkah menorah sits at Grand Army Plaza on Fifth Avenue and 59th Street near Central Park, just outside the Plaza Hotel. Since its inception, a number of notable luminaries and dignitaries have had the honor of lighting the candles of this towering symbol of Hanukkah, including several New York mayors, governors, senators and more.
This year, the honor of lighting the candles on the first night of Hanukkah will go to New York City Mayor Eric Adams and Israel's Ambassador to the United Nations Gilad Erdan, with the ceremony kicking off at 5:30 p.m. EST.
The ceremony itself has been organized by Chabad's Lubavitch Youth Organization and will be hosted by the organization's director Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman and real estate developer Rotem Rosen.
This annual celebration is even older than the menorah itself, with an annual menorah lighting taking place at the Grand Army Plaza since 1977, though the celebration itself dates back to to a global Hanukkah initiative by the late Lubavitcher Rebbe Menachem Mendel Schneerson.
This is due to an important aspect of the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah: Publicizing the mitzvah. This means that Hanukkah celebrations must be as public as possible, which is why families traditionally light hanukkiot by their windows where others can see it.
Hanukkah celebrations amid rising antisemitism
But this year's Hanukkah celebration comes with added significance. The first is because it comes as Jewish communities across the world mark Hakhel, a tradition of Jewish gatherings for Torah study and unity that occurs once every seven years.
The second is because of a rise in antisemitism both in specific incidents and in the embrace of antisemitic beliefs and rhetoric by some of the world's most famous and influential figures.
This, however, is just what Hanukkah is about, according to Rabbi Butman.
“Hanukkah is a holiday that celebrates the Jewish people’s remarkable deliverance from those who wished them harm. When faced with darkness, this menorah serves as a symbol of New York City's dedication to persevering and celebrating all its citizens as they are. And this year, we’re shining that great symbol ever so bright.”Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
“Hanukkah is a holiday that celebrates the Jewish people’s remarkable deliverance from those who wished them harm,” he explained. “When faced with darkness, this menorah serves as a symbol of New York City's dedication to persevering and celebrating all its citizens as they are. And this year, we’re shining that great symbol ever so bright.”
The celebration this year will come with live music, hassidic dancing and will lead to another celebration on the last night of Hanukkah, December 25, when all of the candles on the menorah will be lit up.
But Chabad isn't just stopping with one Hanukkah menorah in New York City. Rather, the global hassidic organization will set up over 15,000 large Hanukkah menorahs in public in over 100 countries worldwide.
Many of these will also be in front of famous landmarks like Paris's Eiffel Tower, London's Trafalgar Square and the White House in Washington.
“This year’s celebration will be even bigger and more comprehensive than we’ve done before,” Butman said. “We are excited to be celebrating Hanukkah at the world’s largest menorah with the people of New York, and show the world even a little light can overcome much darkness.”