Chanukah celebrations this year featured thousands of new faces, and a surprising array of unusual menorahs – some edible, others enormous – that graced locations in every time zone, stretching from Hawaii to Jerusalem and back around to Australia. And just as in past years, officials from every level of government lent a hand to the festivities.

In Honolulu, Hawaiian Gov. Linda Lingle lit the menorah at a Chanukah celebration hosted by Rabbi Itchel and Pearl Krasnjansky, directors of the state’s Chabad-Lubavitch center. Although Lingle has participated in the annual celebration for eight years running, this year’s event came amidst a package of celebrations, including a citywide parade and the unveiling of a eight-foot-long menorah made out of 71 cakes.

“People loved it,” said Pearl Krasnjansky. “We get a lot of new faces each year. It’s an opportunity to express their love for being Jewish in an open way. At this time of year, when the atmosphere is so dominated by a non-Jewish holiday, people are appreciative of the effort to give tangible expression to Jewish pride.”

Halfway around the world, Rabbi Yosef Kantor, director of Chabad-Lubavitch Thailand, echoed the point, noting that Chanukah provides an opportune time to celebrate being Jewish.

“This Chanukah was the first time we held an event at an outside location, and people were very excited about it,” said Kantor, who hosted a community-wide menorah lighting at a Bangkok mall on the third night of the eight-day holiday.

More than 250 people attended the Bangkok event, which began with a screening at the local IMAX theater of a film about the Maccabees’ defeat of the Syrian-Greeks and the first Chanukah.

Continuing a growing trend, Jewish residents of Cape Town, South Africa, gathered to light a menorah made entirely out of ice before dancing the night away in the shadow of Table Mountain. Chanukah parties at other locations also featured ice menorahs, including at Peruria, Ill.’s Carver Arena, where Chabad-Lubavitch Rabbi Eli Langsam positioned a 500-pound version on the ice for a half-time event during an American Hockey League game.

Celebrants at a S. Fe, N.M., Chanukah party organized by the local Chabad-Lubavitch center dance the night away.
Celebrants at a S. Fe, N.M., Chanukah party organized by the local Chabad-Lubavitch center dance the night away.

Political Elite Join In

Some celebrations took place in the highest reaches of power, such as at a handful of state capitols and governors’ mansions, and even just outside the White House.

On Dec. 14, the fourth night of the holiday, Utah Gov. Gary Herbert and his wife Jeannette welcomed several dozen guests to a Chanukah party at their official residence in Salt Lake City. State political figures, including former U.S. Ambassador John Price, attended the celebration, as did Rabbi Benny Zippel, director of Chabad-Lubavitch of Utah.

All told, the governors of more than half a dozen states, including California, Florida, Illinois and New Jersey, either hosted their own ceremonies or served as guests of honor at Chanukah celebrations sponsored by local Chabad Houses.

But White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emmanuel’s lighting of the National Menorah in Washington, D.C., was perhaps one of the most-watched public Chanukah celebrations in the United States. Standing between Rabbi Avraham Shemtov, director of American Friends of Lubavitch, and his son, Rabbi Levi Shemtov, director of its Washington office, Emmanuel was hoisted to the top of the menorah in a cherry picker. Later in the week, two young children of a Jewish soldier currently serving in the U.S. Army in Iraq lit a smaller menorah inside the White House at the institution’s eighth-annual Chanukah party.

Elsewhere in the world, heads of state and local government officials took to public squares from London to Moscow to help light their cities’ Chanukah menorahs. Among them, Czech Prime Minister Jan Fischer, who is Jewish, lit the menorah erected by Chabad-Lubavitch Rabbi Manis Barash in Prague’s central Jan Palach Square.

In the Australian state of New South Wales, meanwhile, legislators in the regional parliament hosted the body’s first-ever Chanukah party since its founding 150 years ago. Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and outgoing Uruguayan President Dr. Tabare Vazquez also invited Jewish community leaders and local Chabad-Lubavitch emissaries to their offices to mark the holiday.

Gov. Linda Lingle lights the Chanukah menorah erected by Chabad-Lubavitch of Hawaii.
Gov. Linda Lingle lights the Chanukah menorah erected by Chabad-Lubavitch of Hawaii.

The holiday, however, was not without its setbacks. In Monroe, N.J., a 30-foot-high menorah toppled over and hit a traffic light, disturbing the flow of traffic for a few hours, and in Vienna, Austria, celebrations took a violent turn when a man attacked Chabad-Lubavitch Rabbi Dov Gruzman after a menorah lighting ceremony, biting the rabbi’s finger. Although part of his finger was later amputated, Gruzman instructed celebrants to continue the festivities in his absence.

In Hawaii, Krasnjansky said that such incidents were rare, and that worldwide, Chanukah celebrations tended to be characterized as much by their support among the non-Jewish community as by their massive attendance by members of the Jewish community.

“Honolulu is a tolerant town in general,” said Krasnjansky, “but even here, we were a little surprised by how enthusiastic people were about the parade. A lot of non-Jews were honking and waving with big smiles on their faces as we drove past.”

In Salt Lake City, Zippel said that governor’s support of his state’s Jewish community dovetailed with attitudes among the city’s rank and file.

“In Salt Lake City, the atmosphere in general was very positive,” remarked the rabbi. “The Jewish population is small, but is definitely accepted by the larger community, and that’s reflected in the support we get for our events.”