New Yorkers and visitors from around the world gathered outside the Plaza Hotel Sunday to mark the first night of Hanukkah with the lighting of the world’s largest menorah.
The hundreds in attendance gathered with a more somber tone in the air, as the lighting came just more than a month after 11 Jews were killed in a mass shooting during a Shabbat service at a synagogue in Pittsburgh.
Atop a towering cherry-picker machine, Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman of the Lubavitch Youth Organization, addressed the crowd and said the lighting was important as ever.
"This is not long after Pittsburgh. This could have happened anywhere," Butman said. "We are not going to be put down. We are going to survive, we are going to continue."
The shooting and a recent surge of anti-Semitic incidents in the city and around the country have left the community on edge, but those in attendance Sunday evening said it was crucial to not live in fear.
"No matter what we should celebrate. We have to keep moving on and not be afraid to celebrate," said Tamara Slachevsky, 61, who lives with her husband on the Upper West Side. "This is about community. I can’t be with my family (in Chile) but I can celebrate with my (Jewish) family here."
The 32-foot-tall menorah, which was designed by Israeli artist Yaacov Agam, has been on display in front of the hotel annually since 2005. The Guinness Book of World Records recognized it as the world’s largest menorah in 2006.
The menorah will remain on display until next Sunday, when the holiday ends, and every night there will be a different event commemorating that night’s lighting with dancing, songs and other festivities.
David Levin, 68, of Forest Hills, attended Sunday with his girlfriend after reading about the event online.
"I think it’s great. You see Christmas trees all over, which is beautiful, but we need this too," Levin said. "I feel real proud right now. This is something beautiful."
Greg Bartos, 30, and his wife Morgan, 32, were visiting the city from North Carolina and heard about the event after arriving in NYC.
"We were surprised with how many places display their menorahs next to their Christmas tree," Greg said. "I mean it fits perfectly. Where else would you have the largest menorah in the world than in the largest city in the world?"