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CityPASS Home  »  City Traveler Blog  »  Hanukkah & Menorah Lighting Ceremonies Around the US

Hanukkah & Menorah Lighting Ceremonies Around the US

The winter holidays have a way of bringing people of different beliefs together, recognizing how similar many of our ancient traditions that have survived into modern times may be. This year, Hanukkah, the Jewish Festival of Lights, begins at sundown on Wednesday November 27th, kicking off the winter holiday season early -- just a day before Thanksgiving!

With the upcoming Hanukkah holiday in mind, CityPASS would like to show you some of the biggest, brightest, and most festive menorah lighting ceremonies around the U.S. Whether you’re Jewish by faith, by birth, or not at all, the cultural significance of these ceremonies is something that can be enjoyed by all. Happy Hanukkah!

New York City - Home of the World’s Largest Hanukkah Menorah

The United States has the world’s second-largest population of Jews after Israel, with over 5.5 million Jewish people calling this nation home. An estimated 2 million live in New York City alone. From November 27th through December 5th, 2013, the Big Apple shifts its focus to the big menorah at Grand Army Plaza at the corner of the legendary 5th Avenue and 59th Street.

Amid the Manhattan skyscrapers, directly outside the iconic Plaza Hotel, a 32-foot, 4,000-pound menorah constructed of gold-colored steel stands proudly as thousands gather to see the structure lit at sundown. The tips of the menorah contain oil lamps that resemble candlestick wicks. Each night during the eight nights of Hanukkah, a new “wick” is lit with the help of a crane. The lighting takes place within walking distance of Central Park, and admission to this celebratory cultural event is free.

Washington, D.C. - The National Hanukkah Menorah

On Wednesday, November 27th, thousands will gather in the heart of the nation’s capital on the White House Ellipse to witness the ceremonial lighting of the 30-foot menorah. Sponsored by a Hasidic organization, the American Friends of Lubavich (Chabad), the National Menorah lighting dates back to 1979. Next year will mark its 35th anniversary, and plans are already underway to make this occasion even more special next year.

The gathering adds a warm holiday feel to kick off the Hanukkah season right! This year’s outdoor event features traditional latkes and donuts for attendees to enjoy. Music will also add to the festive atmosphere, thanks to performances from the Three Cantors, the U.S. Air Force Band, and renowned Israeli-born Grammy-winning violinist Miri Ben-Ari.  Tickets to the event are free, but must be reserved in advance to secure seating.

The “Mama Menorah” of San Francisco’s Union Square

During the ‘60s and ‘70s, rock promoter Bill Graham helped elevate San Francisco’s rock scene from a local level to world prominence. Not only did Graham give such artists as the Jefferson Airplane, Janis Joplin, and Rod Stewart to the world, he also gave a shining light of hope to the world. In 1975, Graham helped bring a big, beautiful menorah to San Francisco, right in the heart of its bustling Union Square. Graham himself was a Holocaust survivor and, although he was not devoutly religious, he felt strongly about bringing communities together. The menorah was dubbed the “Mama Menorah” since it helped to give birth to large menorahs and lighting ceremonies in roughly 500 other cities around the globe.

This year’s lighting of the Bill Graham Menorah will take place on November 27th at 5pm PST and will extend for all eight days of the Hanukkah celebration, ending on December 4th. The ceremony will be attended by Andy David, Israeli Consul General, and Lori Starr, Executive Director of The Jewish Contemporary Museum. Music, crafts and activities will also be on tap, as well as a special attraction: a lighting ceremony on the 7th day by The Rabbi and The Robot (a real robot)! The event is free to all and open to the public to attend and join in the celebration.

Whether you celebrate Hanukkah, Christmas, Kwanzaa, or countless other winter holidays, joining in on public celebrations of each others’ special days brings us closer together in appreciating the beauty of our shared cities and cultures across the great melting pot that is the U.S. Happy Hanukkah and Happy Holidays from CityPASS!

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