Chabad and Chanukah: How Many Saw The Light?


by Baila Olidort - LUBAVITCH HEADQUARTERS, NY

December 15, 2004

How many people worldwide during the past week, were reminded that it was Chanukah?

To get a rough estimate, you’d have to add up every one of Chabad’s public menorahs—and there were at least 1,843 of them in 559 cities in 65 countries worldwide. They are typically positioned in the city center, the town square, or at major traffic intersections. How many people go through the Holland Tunnel every day? How many pass along Fifth Avenue? The Eiffel Tower in Paris, the Plaza Las Maracas in Caracas; the Sebastian Platz in Munich; the Azrieli Mall in Tel Aviv, the White House in Washington? You get the drift.

Any way you cut it, the menorah lights were surely seen by millions these past eight days. Chabad-Lubavitch Shluchim outdid themselves with Chanukah events that were more colorful and more unusual than in years past. The publicity was bold, the events were wonderfully inviting, the doughnuts were hot, the music was loud and lively, and the dancers spun like dreidels.

Behind all the pizzazz, Chanukah is the quintessential Chabad holiday and goes to the heart of the Chasidic mandate.

A classic anecdote illustrates the point. Reb Sholom Dov Ber of Lubavitch was asked by one of his disciples to define a Chasid. The response came in the form of a parable about the lamplighter of old who would trek through the town streets every evening at dusk, carrying a light attached to the end of a long pole. With this he would reach up to the tall kerosene street lamps and kindle them, illuminating the streets for the benefit of the townspeople and nighttime travelers.

By now a staple in the repertoire of Chasidic morality tales, the story is retold on many an occasion by Chasidic mentors driving home the message that ultimately, a “Chasid is a lamplighter.”

Though Chabad regards every mitzvah and every Jewish holiday as spiritually illuminating, none is more visually evocative of this than the menorahs lights. And none better allows the Shluchim to play the role of literal lamplighters, illuminating the darkened skies of their respective towns and cities in much the same fashion as the lamplighter of old.

So the enthusiasm Chabad-Lubavitch Shluchim feel for the Chanukah festival is understandable. As regards Chanukah, bigger is certainly better: a taller menorah, a more widely-publicized event, a more innovative way to celebrate the mitzvah—all this usually adds up to more people who will see the light. And that is very much the point.

After last year’s Chanukah events, it seemed Chabad had placed a menorah to reach every conceivable population. But there were yet some firsts this year—among them the one in Warsaw, where a 26-foot tall menorah was lit in the city center, at the Palace of Science and Culture. “People came from cities several hours away,” said Rabbi Meir Stambler who organized the lighting, “because they could not believe this would happen here.”

According to figures of the Jewish Federation in the FSU, some 200,000 Jews participated in Chabad-sponsored Chanukah events in the region. Whether in remote Magadan, Azerbaijan, or Krasnoyarsk, Siberia, Chabad’s menorahs and festive celebrations put the pomp and circumstance into the observance of Chanukah, drawing the city’s most notables. Presidents and Prime Ministers from the Kremlin and the Knesset, the White House and the House of Commons, all made time for the privilege of participating in the menorah lighting.

In shopping malls and town squares, at army bases in Israel, Iraq and the U.S., at major thoroughfare intersections and city landmarks from the Brooklyn Bridge to the Brandenburg Gate, in soccer fields and football stadiums, on college campuses and in business centers, the Chanukah menorahs took center stage.

The following photographs offer a glimpse into the breadth and scope of Chabad’s Chanukah outreach campaign.

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