London Mayor Ken Livingstone welcomed some 5,000 revelers to Trafalgar Square Tuesday night for a historic lighting of a Chanukah menorah with the Chabad House of Hendon.
It was the first time a menorah had been lit at the central landmark.
"It was amazing," said Rabbi Dovid Katz, educational director of the Chabad House, which coordinated the lighting of the towering 30-foot menorah outfitted with state-of-art LED lights to reduce its carbon footprint. "This is the most central you can get; it's the equivalent of Times Square."
Organizers served the traditional latkes and doughnuts as the Chabad of Hendon Concert Choir sang Chanukah songs. The mayor himself gave out chocolate coins to the children in attendance while the menorah – an avant-garde angular construction – showered the winter sky with a cascade of color.
"It was truly a majestic atmosphere," beamed Katz.
The menorah – which the rabbi claimed was the world's heaviest at a full 13 tons – had the ability to be lit by the specially-designed environmentally-friendly bulbs as well as by oil. At the ceremony, organizers used the oil, but for each of the other seven nights of the holiday, the LED lights shined bright.
The London Climate Change Agency commissioned the lights as part of its project to light the entire city with the new technology.
The Chabad House of Hendon’s Chanukah menorah at London’s Trafalgar Square lights up the night sky. Nelson’s Column is in the background.
In his speech, the mayor, who lit the menorah's shamash candle, extolled the cultural hodgepodge that is the population of London.
"Chanukah actually embodies what we want for London," said the mayor. "It's the right of individuals to live their lives as they choose, to practice the faith they choose and to defend that faith from those who deny them that right."
Livingstone also quipped that if people got tired of calling the city by its proper name, they could always call London "Chanukah."
Rabbi Gershon Overlander, director of the Chabad House of Hendon, spoke about the essential message of Chanukah: the victory of light over darkness. In introducing the mayor, he pointed out that the shamash stands higher than the other lights, but serves them. In the same way, Livinstone's strength lies in his ability to serve the varied constituencies of England's most-populous city.
"It was one of the most special occasions of my life," said Overlander after the event. "To see thousands of Jews young and old, and many non-Jews, so proudly and publicly celebrating Chanukah together with the mayor of London was figuratively and quite literally a very uplifting experience."
Looking once more at the sheer history of the occasion, Katz commented that "people felt proud to be Jewish" that night.