Manhattan’s Menorah being lit by Danny Danon, Israel’s Ambassador to the UN, in 2016. Via Chabad Lubavitch/Flickr.
In the mid-1970s, former Chabad Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson encouraged his emissaries to build public menorahs in major cities and organize nightly lightings to increase public awareness about Hanukkah and inspire fellow Jews to light menorahs in their homes. Decades later, Chabad rabbis continue the effort in cities worldwide, but in New York, the practice hasn’t always been peaceful. The tradition ended up creating a friendly competition between rival menorahs in Brooklyn and Manhattan, who both claimed to be “The World’s Largest.”
Find out the story and learn about this year’s lightings
Hanukkah celebration by the Young Men’s Hebrew Association at the Academy of Music in New York City, 1880, via Wikimedia Commons
Hanukkah is engrained into New York’s holiday season, but roughly 100 years ago the Festival of Lights was big news to many New Yorkers. Look at the newspaper coverage back in the day regarding the holiday, and most “took an arms-length approach,” as Bowery Boys puts it. “More than one old Tribune or World carried a variant of the headline “Jews Celebrate Chanukah,” as though there might have been some doubt. A 1905 headline even informed readers that, “Chanukah, Commemorating Syrian Defeat, Lasts Eight Days.”
Such headlines weren’t just the result of ignorance–New York’s Jewish population was low through the 1800s, and even within the religion, Hanukkah has traditionally been a minor festival. But a boom in Jewish immigration from Eastern Europe and a reassertion of religious traditions in a new country completely changed the fabric of New York. Eventually, the eight-day festival of light–which commemorates the victory of the Maccabees over the Greeks over 2,000 years ago–emerged as an important tradition of the city.
Here’s what happened
The holidays turn New York City into a bright, illuminated wonderland that even the biggest Scrooge among us can enjoy. While there are plenty of events to choose from, like alternative holiday markets and glittering art installations, many of these activities can be jampacked with tourists. For those looking to learn more about their own holiday traditions, or understand others, there are lots of low-key, educational events perfect for history buffs looking for a quieter holiday experience. Ahead, check out 6sqft’s guide to the best holiday events in New York City that come with a historical twist, from Christmas to Hanukkah to Kwanzaa.
This way for our top-10 picks
Image via Jonathan Adler
Tonight marks the beginning of Hanukkah, and for eight nights, Jews will be celebrating by lighting menorahs of all shapes and sizes in their homes, as well as in public spaces throughout New York.
While Hanukkah might not traditionally be thought of as a design-oriented holiday, in recent years menorahs have become more and more creative and diverse. From contemporary interpretations to dinosaur versions to express your inner paleontologist, there is a menorah out there for everyone. We put together a list of some of our favorites that you can buy, in addition to three must-view menorahs in New York City.
Check out this festive holiday list here