Happy Hanukkah: National Menorah Lighting Ceremony (photos)


On Sunday, Nov. 28, the first night of the eight-day Jewish holiday, thousands attended the 2021 National Hanukkah Menorah lighting ceremony 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 42nd 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 in 165 B.C.

This year’s honored guest, second gentleman Douglas C. Emhoff, delivered the keynote address. Emhoff expressed his appreciation for seeing the event occur in such a prestigious space, especially in the face of antisemitism. “As we light this menorah on this lawn of the free, let us rededicate ourselves to doing everything we can to shine a light on hate, so we can put an end to hate,” he said. 

In attendance at this year’s ceremony was Stuart Eizenstat who, while serving as a domestic advisor to President Carter, helped facilitate the initial permit for the National Menorah in 1979.

Rabbi Levi Shemtov, executive vice president of American Friends of Lubavitch (Chabad), and his father, Rabbi Abraham Shemtov, the organization’s national director, together helped light the first candles atop the 30-foot-high National Menorah with the aid of a special lift. They were accompanied by philanthropist Louis Mayberg and entrepreneur Brock Pierce, a staunch supporter of the National Menorah Council.

A brand new menorah was inaugurated, made from recycled aluminum provided by the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries, Inc. (ISRI). The previous National Menorah had to be retired as its structure became worn.

The United States Air Force Band under the baton of Lt. Brandon Hults, USAF, and the “Three Cantors” provided the musical backdrop. Third grader Chava Moscowitz of Chicago and fifth grader Maya Benchimol of New York, N.Y., read their prize-winning essays on “What Hanukkah Means to Me.”

An emotional first time meeting took place on stage between Rebecca, a bone marrow donor, and Rosa, a married mother of two children, whom she saved in cooperation with the organization Gift of Life. This was followed by a general appeal for others to register as potential bone marrow transplant donors.

Hanukkah the holiday is often celebrated with traditional games, foods and gifts. The popular Dreidelman made his usual appearance at this event. A dreidel is a spinning top with, on its four sides, the first letters of the Hebrew words for “a great miracle happened there.” Free menorah kits were also distributed. After the ceremony, attendees were treated to latke potato pancakes and sufganiyot, a type of jelly donut eaten around the world during this holiday.

The ceremony concluded with musical renditions of “Oseh Shalom [He Who Makes Peace]” and “God Bless America.”

“Hanukkah is not just a holiday. It is a time for hope, freedom and love,” concluded Emhoff in his remarks. “On behalf of the the president, the first lady, the vice president and myself, Happy Hahukkah, everyone!”

View a slideshow of Jeff Malet’s photos from the National Menorah lighting ceremony by clicking on the photo icons below.

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