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World's largest menorah lit in Manhattan to mark first night of Hanukkah

Jewish communities across New York celebrate first night of Hanukkah
Jewish communities across New York celebrate first night of Hanukkah 03:24

NEW YORK -- Thursday is the first night of Hanukkah, and it comes during a difficult time for Jewish people, amid the Israel-Hamas war and a rise in antisemitism.

It is Jewish tradition to light the menorah on Hanukkah as a proud display of religious identity, but for many this year, that tradition brings threat. The NYPD was already on heightened alert, and now they're implementing even more security around public menorah displays. Some Jewish New Yorkers told us to celebrate Hanukkah loudly is especially important this year.

Manhattan menorah lightings

With increased incidents of Jewish hate this year, some families have decided to keep their celebrations private, but some members of the community came together to shine light on the darkness by lighting what's considered the world's largest menorah in Manhattan.

Watch Lisa Rozner's report

World's largest menorah lit in Manhattan to mark first night of Hanukkah 02:39

It is so tall -- more than 30 feet high -- the rabbi needed a lift to light the first candle.

Chabad puts the menorah up every year and says Guinness World Records lists it as the largest.

Years ago, it was designed by an Israeli artist, inspired by a hand drawing of the original menorah in the Holy Temple of Jerusalem.

The Holy Temple is the centerpiece of the Hanukkah story. More than 2,000 years ago, the temple was under siege and Jews were being forced to worship Greek gods. The Jewish people fought back and won.

To rededicate the temple, they needed oil to light the menorah. They could only find enough to keep the flames burning for one night, but miraculously, it lasted for eight days.

It was a bittersweet moment as Thursday marks two months since the Israel-Hamas war began.

"Hanukkah is a reminder of the strength and resiliency and the ability to find light through darkness, and if ever in our history in New York we have needed to find light after darkness, it is right now. But what people are having to deal with and endure is unspeakable, and it must stop. But I know that we'll rise together, and we will not be intimidated into silence, will not be threatened into submission, and we will rise up and prevail," Gov. Kathy Hochul said.

It's one of many on display in cities and towns worldwide.

At Temple Emanu-El on the Upper East Side, Rabbi Joshua Davidson was joined by Catholic Archbishop Cardinal Timothy Dolan.

"To suffer is bad enough. To suffer alone is even worse," Dolan said.

"During moments of fear, it is critically important to have friends who stand beside you. You put your light next to theirs and then even the darkest night becomes bright," Davidson said.

Many years ago, the Rebbe of Chabad Lubavitch encouraged Jews to have a more public display of Hanukkah, to spread the holiday's message of light and hope.

This year, Chabad has more than 15,000 public menorahs in more than 100 countries, including at the White House and the Eiffel Tower in Paris.

There will be a public lighting at the menorah in Manhattan every night. Most nights, it will take place at 5:30 p.m., but it will be held earlier Friday due to Shabbat.

The mayor will light the menorah Monday.

Roslyn, Long Island, menorah lighting

Lighting the menorah in Roslyn, Long Island, by way of cherry picker, was Orna Neutra.

"It's a holiday of light, so light has to prevail over the darkness," she said.

Her 22-year-old son, Omer, was born and raised in Nassau County. He moved to Israel after high school and joined the Israeli Defense Forces. On Oct. 7, he was taken hostage by Hamas.

"They were guarding the border, they were guarding the villages that we all know needed protection, but they were not prepared for this invasion and he was taken. He was abducted that day, and we haven't heard from him since," Neutra said.

The family came out on this holiday of hope, holding onto theirs.

"We're just hoping that by the end of Hanukkah, we can celebrate together, all of us," Omer's father, Ronen Neutra, said.

For some Jews, this painful moment inspires them to stand together.

"We're not gonna cower. We're not gonna hide. Some suggest maybe leave the menorah indoors. On the contrary, the Rebbe of Chabad Lubavitch taught us on Hanukkah we go out and light the menorah and are on the streets, like we see here tonight," said Roslyn resident Yaakov Wilansky.

On this holiday of miracles, many pray for one more.

"We have to bring them out from those tunnels and make sure that they're home," Orna Neutra said.

In addition to the NYPD, the governor has also directed state police and the National Guard to increase patrols around Hanukkah celebrations.

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