Celebrating Hanukkah at National Menorah Lighting (photos)

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The Poleg family from Potomac, Maryland. The couple met at an earlier National Menorah Lighting. Photo by Jeff Malet.

On Sunday evening, Dec. 2, thousands gathered to celebrate Hanukkah on the Ellipse, just south of the White House, at the 2018 National Menorah Lighting ceremony. Hanukkah always begins at sunset on the 25th day of the month of Kislev, according to the Jewish lunar calendar.

This year marked the 40th lighting of the National Menorah, a free event, open to the public, that dates back to 1979, when Jimmy Carter was president.

Hanukkah celebrates the Jewish Maccabees’ military victory over Greek-Syrian oppression more than 2,000 years ago. A candle is lit each night of the eight-day celebration, commemorating the miracle of one day’s supply of oil lasting a full eight days in the lamp following the re-dedication of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem.

A high-ranking member of the current administration is typically chosen to light the first candle atop the 30-foot-high National Menorah with the aid of a special elevator. This year, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke ascended to the top, flanked by Rabbi Levi Shemtov, executive vice president of American Friends of Lubavitch (Chabad), and his father, Rabbi Abraham Shemtov, the organization’s national director.

“The president stands strongly with the Jewish people and the great state of Israel,” said Zinke as part of his remarks.

Mussia Poltorak of Fairfield, Connecticut, and Ella Mosca of New York City read their prize-winning essays on “What Hanukkah Means to Me.” The popular Dreidelman made his usual appearance. A dreidel is a spinning top with, on its four sides, the first letters of the Hebrew words for “a great miracle happened there.”

The “Pershing’s Own” U.S. Army Band and the Three Cantors provided the musical backdrop, with a special performance by 8th Day, an American Hasidic pop-rock band. Following the ceremony, attendees were treated to the traditional potato pancakes, known as latkes, and jelly doughnuts, known as sufganiyot. Complimentary personal menorah kits and dreidels were also distributed.

View Jeff Malet’s photos of the 40th National Menorah Lighting in Washington, D.C., by clicking on the photo icons below.

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