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Tri-State Area Families Mark Beginning Of Chanukah Festivities

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- Families across the Tri-State area celebrated the start of Chanukah Tuesday night.

As 1010 WINS' Al Jones reported, Mayor Bill de Blasio was lifted high into the air in a cherry picker Tuesday evening for the lighting the world's largest menorah in Grand Army Plaza in Brooklyn.

He briefly seemed to have some difficulty getting into the Con Edison cherry picker, but once at the top, he used a blow-torch to light the shamash – the center candle used to light the others.

Mayor de Blasio Helps Light World's Largest Menorah

"Brothers and sisters, this wonderful day, gathered together, I say happy Chanukah to everyone; happy Chanukah to New York City," the mayor said.

Rabbi Shea Hecht joined the mayor in the cherry picker, and lit the first candle – in this case, actually a propane lantern.

"The lighting of the menorah, bringing light into the dark world that we living today, is so necessary. And let's hope and pray this menorah will illuminate the entire world," Hecht said.

Meanwhile, it was a very special night in the New Rochelle home of the Leventhal family, CBS2's Tracee Carrasco reported. Cory Leventhal, 7, and his brother Ryan, 4, were already up to speed on the history behind the holiday.

They were all ready to share it with their new baby brother, Andrew, on his first Chanukah.

"Jewish people will gather around in their houses and they will light a candle; candles in a candle holder called a menorah or a hanukia," Cory explained.

They knew about everything from the candles prayers and the food.

"We eat fried foods because the oil that they used to light the menorah lasted for eight days, instead of how long it was supposed to," Cory said.

Cory and Ryan already understood the true meaning of Chanukah.

"I think it's about being together," Cory said.

Their mother, Erica Leventhal, was impressed.

"It's meaningful for me to be able to hear them speak about the tradition and history behind it," she said.

And earlier on Tuesday afternoon, a synagogue in New Rochelle was teaching their little ones the reason for the season, CBS2's Lou Young reported.

"Chanukah is a time when everyone gets together," said one pre-schooler.

The pre-school at Beth El Synagogue is building traditions for the Festival of Lights specifically for those at the very start of the learning curve.

For eight days a candle is lit at each sunset, commemorating the oil lamps that remained lit during an ancient siege, Young reported.

Dreidels play a big part as ancient teaching tools designed as toys to fool conquering masters -- symbols of survival.

"It's a holiday about miracles," said Rabbi Joshua Dorsch.

In a strictly religious sense, Chanukah is a minor holiday, but an important cultural one because of the time of year and the overwhelming presence of Christmas in American culture, Young reported.

"Our Jewish children feel that they want to get presents like their non-Jewish friends for the holidays. So I think that's why it's important to really teach them it's not just about the presents," said New Rochelle resident Lauren Axelrod.

Tri-State Area Families Prepare Ahead Of Chanukah Festivities

And on Long Island, students were cooking latkes ahead of the start of Chanukah.

As WCBS 880's Sophia Hall reported, the students from Solomon Schechter High School and the Hebrew Academy of Nassau County were cooking up a storm at the Garden City Hotel Tuesday afternoon.

The students said the meaning behind what they were doing goes very deep and personal.

"The latke itself is pretty much a potato pancake fried in oil, which represents the miracle of this holiday. Which was back then in Chanukah, God made a pitcher of oil that was supposed to last only one day, he made it last for eight days," said 17-year-old Rachel Levian.

Ari Levine said he made an Israeli latke.

"To tie in Israeli and America, and about how now we live in religious freedom," he said.

Chanukah began at sundown and celebrations continue through Dec. 24.

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