Chanukah 2003: Bigger and Brighter Universal Celebrations


by Baila Olidort - LUBAVITCH WORLD HEADQUARTERS, NY

December 19, 2003

This Chanukah, Americans can expect to see more Chanukah menorahs illuminated in public squares than ever before. In malls, city parks, and at major intersections, Chabad’s giant sized menorahs will remind passers-by that this is the Jewish Festival of Lights. At many of these events, city officials will participate in the lighting of the menorah, drawing yet greater crowds to participate.

Reports coming into the offices of Lubavitch World Headquarters indicate that this will likely be the most widely celebrated Chanukah to date. Chabad Shluchim representing some 60 countries are conducting grand Chanukah events, significantly enhancing the level of exposure to this festival. A quick look at the Lubavitch World Headquarters website that posts Chabad-sponsored Chanukah events around the world (Chanukah Events) is suggestive of the scope and range of Chabad’s Chanukah program.

The list is by no means complete, but users can pick a country and find a listing for a Chanukah event in any city served by Chabad. Choose Barcelona, Spain, for example, and you’ll find a public menorah lighting in Turo Park, on Sunday, the third night of Chanukah, where participants were entertained by a Klezmer band and traditional Chanukah fare. Or choose the former Soviet Union, and you’ll find Chanukah celebrations, scores of them—from Krasnayorsk in Siberia to Tashkent in Uzbekistan. Pick Sacramento, California, and you’ll learn that Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger helped light Chabad’s grand menorah outside the State Capitol. In Canada alone, the site lists 20 cities that have posted Chanukah events. In China, Thailand, the Netherlands, the Congo—Chabad is celebrating Chanukah wherever there are Jews to celebrate with.

Chabad Shluchim devise creative ways of generating publicity for the holiday. Chabad of Studio City, California, for example, has organized a grand menorah display and Chanukah festival at Universal Cities, giving scores of thousands exposure to the holiday, with a full gamut of Chanukah activities, crafts, games and more. In the Hamptons, Mayor Joseph Ramonowski of Southampton Village lit the menorah at a grand, historic Chanukah celebration. In West Bloomfield, Michigan, Chabad bought commercial time on the local UPN and CBS television stations, for thirty-second commercials throughout the 8 nights of Chanukah. The commercials, sponsored by DSW Shoe Warehouse, are titled “The 8 Faces of Chanukah,” and illustrate Chanukah as it is celebrated across the entire spectrum of Jews.

Many of them—thousands—will have learned about Chanukah at any one of Chabad’s innovative Chanukah events. Between Chabad’s Chanukah Wonderland, Dreidel House and Olive Press—all of which have become highly popular in the United States—most Jewish children enjoy exciting opportunities to experience the holiday hands-on, as they learn about its historic and spiritual significance.

Chanukah is perhaps the most popular of Jewish holidays today. So popular, few recall that only 25 years ago, far too many American Jews didn’t even bother with Chanukah, opting instead for non-Jewish seasonal celebrations and symbols.

But at the instructions of the Lubavitch Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory, who emphasized that the observance of Chanukah calls specifically for “publicizing the miracle” of the holiday, Chabad-Lubavitch was to illuminate the world with the lights of the Chanukah menorah.

The first public menorah went up in Union Square, San Francisco, in 1975. Many followed, but Chabad Houses in state after state found themselves battling the courts for the freedom to erect a menorah on public property. Most of these cases were won, and Chabad’s Chanukah activities continued to grow. Chabad expanded its longtime tradition of distributing personal menorah kits, so that today, Chabad distributes half a million menorah kits worldwide. The campaign intensified with the creative development of programs designed to give children a participatory experience of Chanukah.

Utilizing every medium and every available resource to enhance the Chanukah experience, this Jewish festival has won the interest of even the most unaffiliated Jews, many who would finally replace their evergreen trees with Chanukah menorahs, and seasonal songs with Chanukah melodies. In many communities, Chabad collaborates with artists and sculptors to create the most interesting and creative menorahs. From sea shells to cans, from ice to the most elegant woods, every medium has been employed in the construction of these giant--20-30 foot menorahs that illuminate the night skies in their respective locations.

In 1990, Chabad-Lubavitch employed the use of hi-tech communications innovatively, for a telecast of a simultaneous menorah lighting to take place in public squares worldwide. Billed “Chanukah Live!” the dramatic, live hook-up at Lubavitch World Headquarters let millions of viewers watch as Chabad’s Chanukah menorahs were kindled simultaneously, in capital cities around the world: the Kremlin, Washington, Melbourne, London, Paris and more. Today, Chanukah Live! continues (Chanukah Live!) and Chabad’s Chanukah campaign grows from year to year, with the objective of drawing greater numbers of Jewish people into the celebration and observance of Chanukah. A Chabad sponsored website-- (Chanukah) dedicated entirely to all aspects of the Chanukah Festival, gets thousands of hits a day, where users can learn pretty much anything related to Chanukah.

According to Rabbi Yehuda Krinsky at Lubavitch World Headquarters, "the history of Chanukah in the United States is nothing less than the phenomenon of religious freedom at work." Rabbi Krinsky recalls the numerous victories Chabad has won to secure the right to celebrate Chanukah publicly. "The Rebbe felt passionately about ensuring every Jew the freedom to celebrate Judaism openly, and with pride. He specifically talked about the message of the menorah's lights--which are illuminated incrementally, day by day, and the lesson we are to take from this in our own lives--never to be satisified with past accomplishments, but to continously add light and goodness to the world.

"I think it's fair to say that through the creative and dynamic work of our Shluchim, the message is getting out there."

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