National Menorah marks 40 years of light

National Menorah Lighting, Washington, DC USA(Flickr, Ted Eytan)

Hanukkah, the Jewish Festival of Lights, began Sunday evening with a crowd of bundled-up revelers showing up at the Ellipse to witness the lighting of the National Hanukkah menorah on its 40th anniversary.

The menorah is situated south of the White House and just north of the National Mall and is said to be the largest in the world. The eight-day festival will continue through December 30.

The ceremony included performances by U.S. Marine Band and The Three Cantors, and a recognition of two winners of the National Menorah essay contest.

After the lighting ceremony, the celebrating the holiday enjoyed hot latkes and doughnuts. Free dreidels and menorah kits were also handed out, along with a booklet explaining the story of Hanukkah.

“Many people know the story of Hanukkah, but only as a historical pretext to give gifts and eat latkes. We can call that the body of Hanukkah,” Rabbi Levi Shemtov, executive vice president of American Friends of Lubavitch (Chabad) wrote in the booklet’s welcome letter.

“The soul of Hanukkah is its meditation, joy, warmth and light,” he said.

“Last year, in honor of Hanukkah, I saw this online,” said David Glazer, who drove up from Richmond with his wife Rochel. “And I said, you know what, this year it would be great to drive up if I can. So that’s basically what brought me up [to the National Menorah] to celebrate Hanukkah at this time.”

Glazer recalled recent acts of hate and terror around the world as one reason it is important to spread light “whether it was the grocery store murder that occurred in Jersey City, N.J., or the terrorist attack in Poway (near San Diego, Calif.), or in Pittsburgh last year, to the ones in New Zealand,” he said.

That sentiment and idea of shining light in dark times was also echoed from others waiting in line, including Renee Gross of Rockville.

“Our world is a crazy place right now, and I think people just have to be accepting of each other and come together.” Gross said.

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