This year has in many ways been a difficult one for Jews everywhere. From Poway to Paris, from the streets of Brooklyn to this month’s shooting in Jersey City, the specter of anti-Semitism has reared its head. Still, wherever in the world the Jewish people find themselves, the light of the Chanukah menorah continues to brighten the darkness, starting at home and extending to the street outside, always growing in number:one candle the first night, two on the second, and so on.

The Chanukah story is a familiar one. The Festival of Lights recalls the unlikely victory of a militarily weak but spiritually strong Jewish people over a powerful enemy intent on crushing Israel and the Jewish way of life. The miraculous victory culminated with the rededication of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem and the kindling of its golden menorah. Pure olive oil was needed to light the menorah, but the Jews could only find one small, undefiled cruse—enough to burn for only one day. Miraculously, the oil burned for eight days and nights.

For the last 2,100 years, the Jewish people have commemorated these eight days of Chanukah, especially by lighting the menorah. This has been done in places near and far, in times good and bad. The victory of Chanukah, the Rebbe—Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory—wrote, is celebrated “as a symbol and message of the triumph of freedom over oppression, of spirit over matter, of light over darkness.”

In the early 1970s, the Rebbe introduced a Chanukah awareness campaign, urging increased private observance and public displays of the eight-day holiday. Jews had once kindled their menorahs outside their homes, the Rebbe explained, but centuries of persecution had driven them indoors. Those days were over. Starting in America, it was time to bring the light of the menorah out once again to the streets—not only as a reminder that the Jewish people are free of persecution and can enjoy their rights as a minority, but as a universal message of freedom and liberty for all.

Aptly, the first public menorah—small, wooden and white—rose in the cradle of American liberty, erected in Philadelphia’s Independence Square in 1974. The next year, a Chabad-Lubavitch rabbi and a Holocaust-survivor rock promoter in San Francisco dreamed up a 25-foot menorah, putting it up in the heart of the American counter culture. In 1977, a massive menorah went up on Fifth Avenue, adjacent to Central Park in Manhattan; two years later, President Jimmy Carter inaugurated the menorah outside of the White House. That menorah in Washington, D.C.,—dubbed the National Menorah—and lit ever since—turned 40 this year.

“The Chanukah Menorah, with its universal message, which is especially akin to the spirit of liberty and independence of this nation,” the Rebbe wrote in 1982, “has won a place not only in Jewish life, but also in the life of the American people.”

Like so many positive aspects of American life, the public menorah has since been exported around the world. Today, 15,000 public menorahs illuminate the darkness from Moscow to Kiev, from Malta to Mumbai.

Chabad-Lubavitch emissaries in the United States and around the world have reported more and more people, Jews and non-Jews, joining in the public kindling of the menorah.

“Despite the rise in anti-Semitism and the challenges of hate within our country, I know that each night my family will proudly light the menorah and place it in our front window for all to see,” wrote Marc N. Blattner, president and CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater Portland, Ore., in an email to his community just before Chanukah. “I know many in our community will venture to Director Park (or other public menorah-lightings around the area) for the public lighting of the menorah with Chabad. We should all be proud Jews. And we cannot allow darkness to overcome the light we shine so brightly on this holiday.”

“Let us pray,” the Rebbe wrote in a 1980 letter addressed to all participants in public menorah-lightings, “that the message of the Chanukah lights will illuminate the everyday life of everyone personally, and of the society at large, for a brighter life in every respect, both materially and spiritually.”

Here are some glimpses of public menorahs illuminating the night from around the world.

Washington, D.C.

The National Menorah was first lit in 1979 by President Jimmy Carter. The majestic 30-foot menorah, with its bold message of religious liberty and freedom, has become a yearly tradition on The Ellipse, just south of the White House. This year, U.S. Interior Secretary David Bernhardt took part in the ceremony.

Jersey City, N.J.

The small Jewish community in Jersey City was recently shocked by a violent anti-Semitic attack, which claimed the lives of Moshe Deutsch, Leah Minda Ferencz, Douglas Rodreguiz and Police Det. Joseph Seals. In the weeks since, people have rallied behind Jersey City. Over Chanukah, city officials joined Rabbi Moshe Schapiro, co-director of Chabad of Hoboken and Jersey City, and members of the Greenville neighborhood community to kindle the menorah and show that light will always vanquish darkness.

Mumbai, India

In November 2008, Mumbai was wracked with terror attacks that left 174 people murdered. Specially targeted in the attack were Rabbi Gabi and Rivky Holtzberg, the young directors of Chabad of Mumbai, and their Jewish guests. This year, Rabbi Yisrael Kozlovsky, who along with his wife, Chaya, directs Chabad of Mumbai, continued the tradition of lighting the menorah at the Gateway of India, which shows that even the darkest night can be illuminated by acts of goodness and light.

Sderot, Israel

Rabbi Moshe Zeev Pizem, co-director of Chabad of Sderot, kindles a menorah made from rocket parts shot out of Gaza. Located mere kilometers from the Hamas-held territory, the city experiences frequent rocket fire.

Moscow, Russia

Obscuring a Soviet-era statue of Karl Marx and symbol of the oppression of Russian Jewry in the former Soviet Union, Chabad emissaries kindled a menorah in central Moscow. The Soviet Union’s first public menorah-lighting was also its last. In December of 1991, thousands of Jews gathered at the Kremlin Palace of Congresses to watch the menorah kindled by a venerable Chassidic survivor of Soviet oppression. By the end of the month, the Soviet Union was no more. Today, dozens of giant menorahs are lit around the capital city and hundreds more across the country.

Valletta, Malta

The Mediterranean island of Malta enjoyed its eighth annual menorah-lighting this year. About 200 people turned out to be personally greeted by President George Vella and watch the giant menorah be kindled adjacent to parliament. The event, however, was not without its hiccups. Mushka Segal, who co-directs Chabad of Malta together with her husband, Rabbi Chaim Segal, says a massive downpour tore apart their carefully set up platform and backdrop just minutes before the program was scheduled to begin. But with the permission and assistance of guards protecting the parliament building, they managed to have the entire event moved under the parliament building’s awning. “The Jewish people are a resilient people,” Segal quotes the American ambassador to Malta as saying. “A rainstorm won’t stop them either.”

Kiev, Ukraine

Five years ago, the Donetsk Jewish community’s world was flipped upside down when political disruptions in Ukraine morphed into war. Rabbi Pinchas and Dina Vishedsky, directors of Chabad of Donetsk, had spent decades building a Jewish infrastructure in their eastern Donbass region, but by the summer of 2014, shelling had all but destroyed their city and turned the majority of its Jewish citizens into refugees. That September, the Vishedskys established a Jewish center for refugees from eastern Ukraine in the capital of Kiev. This Chanukah, as many as 1,500 Jews, joined by Israel’s Ambassador to Ukraine Joel Lion, came together to watch a giant public menorah lit in the Podol neighborhood of Kiev, not far from their new center.

Buenos Aires, Argentina

Argentina’s first public menorah was erected in central Buenos Aires in 1984, barely a year after the fall of the country’s brutal military junta. “People were very afraid during that time,” remembered Rabbi Tzvi Grunblatt, director of Chabad of Argentina. “They said there was no way it would not bring anti-Semitism.” Instead, it drew accolades throughout the newly re-established democracy, and the next year the entire Jewish community embraced this new free and public display of their Judaism. Buenos Aires’ massive menorah turned 35 this year, and the main event on the second night of Chanukah drew 2,500 participants, including Ariel Eichbaum, president of AMIA; Jorge Knoblovits, president of DAIA; Galit Ronen, Israel’s ambassador to Argentina; and, Undersecretary for Human Rights and Cultural Pluralism Pamela Malewicz.

Hong Kong

Despite the turmoil that Hong Kong has experienced in recent months, 450 Jews joined Chabad of Hong Kong for their annual Chanukah celebration and menorah-lighting. Rabbi Mordechai and Goldie Avtzon established Chabad in what was then a British protectorate in 1986; the Jewish community there recently welcomed its third Chabad emissary couple, Rabbi Chaim and Menuchy Birnhack.

Portland, Ore.

Quoting an American Jewish Committee poll that reported that 25 percent of American Jews say they avoid certain places, events or situations because of fear of being attacked for being Jewish, Marc N. Blattner, president and CEO of the Jewish Federation of Portland, invited the community to join Chabad of Oregon for their annual public menorah-lighting in the Rose City’s Director Park—one of a number of public menorahs set up throughout the Northwestern city. “ We should all be proud Jews,” he wrote. “And we cannot allow darkness to overcome the light we shine so brightly on this holiday.”


The light of the menorah glows brightly as the menorah is kindled over the warm waters of the Caribbean off of Jamaica’s Montego Bay. This year, Chabad of Jamaica shared Chanukah with tourists and locals alike.