National Menorah Celebrates First Day of Hannukah and its 40th Anniversary (photos)

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David L. Bernhardt (center), United States Secretary of the Interior, lights the National Menorah accompanied by Rabbi Levi Shemtov, executive vice president of American Friends of Lubavitch (Chabad) (left) and Rabbi Abraham Shemtov, the organization's national director. Photo by Jeff Malet.

On Sunday, Dec. 22, thousands gathered to welcome the first night of the eight-day Jewish holiday of Hanukkah at the National Menorah on the Ellipse, just across from the White House in Washington D.C.  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 Hanukkah Menorah, dating 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 rededication of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem.

David L. Bernhardt, United States Secretary of the Interior, helped light the candles atop the 30-foot-high National Menorah with the aid of a special elevator. He was 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.

Children in 3rd to 6th grades had been invited to write essays entitled “What Chanukah means to me”, with the winners flown with a chaperone to Washington to read their essays before a national audience at the lighting ceremony. This year’s winners were Isabelle Alperin, a 4th grade student at Mazel Day School in Brooklyn, N.Y. and Shayna Bronchtain, a 6th Grade student at Desert Torah Academy in Las Vegas, Nev. A touching video showing Isabelle’s reaction in class to learning of winning the contest can be viewed by clicking here.

“The Presidents Own” United States Marine Band entertained with Jewish holiday music and patriotic tunes. The band also provided the musical backdrop for the “Three Cantors” Jeffrey Nadel, Yaakov Motzen and Zalman Baumgarten. Avraham Rosenblum, the “Godfather of Jewish Rock Music,” performed on his guitar. 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.”

After the ceremony, attendees were treated to the traditional potato pancakes, known as latkes, and jelly doughnuts, known as sufganiyot.

View Jeff Malet’s photos from the 40th National Menorah lighting ceremony by clicking on the photo icons below.

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