The lighting ceremony of the National Menorah took place this year in Washington, DC, with the beautiful weather setting the stage for a joyous celebration commemorating the first night of Hanukkah.
The event reached a record number of people, with over 50 million seeing it on over 1,000 national and local TV newscasts in all 50 US states and around the world, according to professional news monitoring.
A new menorah structure was inaugurated, made from recycled aluminum and resources provided by ISRI – Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries, the voice of America’s scrap recyclers.
A novel component of the program was the meeting - for the first time - between a bone marrow donor and the woman she saved, a married mother of two children, in cooperation with Gift of Life.
The US Air Force Band, led by Lt. Brandon Hults, USAF, played special Hanukkah selections, including a really warm welcome for Dreidelman, along with the Three Cantors – Jeff Nadel (Musical Director), Maestro Avi Albrecht of Beth Tfiloh Congregation in Baltimore, MD, and Aryeh Leib Hurwitz of New York City.
Chava Moscowitz (3rd Grade at Cheder Lubavitch – Chicago, IL) and Maya Benshimol (5th Grade at New York Hebrew – New York, NY) read their winning entries in the Rabbi Mendy Deren Memorial National Menorah Essay Contest. They were presented with a special Merit Coin by the Chaplain of the Military District of Washington, Captain (ch.) Mendy Stern.
And for the second time, two “Five Star Generals” – Chaya Mushka Labkowksy of Baltimore, MD, and Moshe Davidson, of Los Angeles, CA, were officially recognized by the youth corps of Tzivos Hashem.
Rabbi Abraham Shemtov, Executive Chairman of Agudas Chassidei Chabad – the international Chabad-Lubavitch movement, and founder of American Friends of Lubavitch (Chabad) as well as the National Menorah program, reminded everyone of the message of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of blessed memory, that “we are all part of one whole.”
Second Gentleman of the United States, Hon. Doug Emhoff, represented and brought greetings on behalf of The President of the United States, Joe Biden, (who himself participated in this event in 2014, but was away with this family this weekend) and Vice President Kamala Harris and the Administration.
Mr. Emhoff thanked Chabad for organizing this event, congratulated the winners of the essay contest, and expressed his deep satisfaction at seeing this event occur in such a prestigious space, especially in the face of anti-Semitism. “We must shine a light on hate,” he said, to the delight of some of the leaders of Shine A Light, a new coalition spanning the Jewish community, formed to counter anti-Semitism.
Rabbi Levi Shemtov, Executive Vice President of American Friends of Lubavitch (Chabad) and organizer of the event, related how colleagues were organizing similar events across the US and in over 100 countries around the world, even as the world is only beginning to bounce back from the COVID-19 pandemic. He also addressed the issue of rising anti-Semitism.
“The effective way to counter anti-Semitism is with a robust, informed and involved Semitism.” Rabbi Levi Shemtov said.
He noted the management of the event by Rabbi Menachem and Racheli Shemtov, and Rabbi Eli Shemtov, who were assisted in the organization of the event by a team of young men from the Lubavitch Mesivta in Baltimore, MD. and Rabbi Yitzi and Shana Ceitlin skillfully oversaw the Rabbi Mendy Deren National Menorah Essay contest and coordinated the press coverage and logistical details.
Rabbis Abraham Shemtov and Levi Shemtov then proceeded to light the National Menorah, accompanied by prominent philanthropist Mr. Louis Mayberg and entrepreneur Mr. Brock Pierce, a staunch supporter of the National Menorah Council.
Of course, hot latkes (potato pancakes), donuts and free menorah kits and guides were distributed to the crowd after the lighting.
Organizers offered to send a free menorah kit, while supplies last, to anyone who requests one at the National Menorah website. Contributions to support the National Menorah can also be made on the site. Since the event, requests for menorahs and materials have come in from across the US.
The menorah lighting was part of a series of events and programs with over 2,000 participants in other Hanukkah celebrations scheduled for the week at The US Capitol, “World of Light” at the InterAmerican Development Bank, The Pentagon, malls, centers, DC neighborhoods including Dupont Circle, Spring Valley, Georgetown and the Capitol Hill community, a huge young professionals event, Hanukkah family fun day, as well as students at The George Washington, Georgetown, and American Universities prior to their departure for Winter Break.