NEW YORK (Dec. 2)
From the Kremlin in Moscow to the Western Wall in Jerusalem and the headquarters of the Lubavitcher Hasidic movement in Brooklyn, Chanukah menorahs were lit simultaneously Sunday, in a ceremony witnessed by millions around the world via satellite broadcast.
The ceremony this year did more than usher in the traditional Jewish “Festival of Lights.” It celebrated the demise of 70 years of Communist rule in the Soviet Union, where religious freedom has been restored.
More than 7,000 people crammed into the Kremlin Palace of Congresses for the first Jewish festivities ever held with the official blessings of the Soviet government.
The Lubavitchers hailed the historic occasion as heralding the imminent coming of the Messiah.
“Moshiach’s on the Way” read a banner across Eastern Parkway, a grand boulevard slicing through Brooklyn’s troubled Crown Heights neighborhood, where the Lubavitcher rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Schneerson, makes his home.
In his remarks, telecast worldwide, the rebbe said the technology that has amplified an ancient message was a manifestation of God’s will.
On this Chanukah, “the fulfillment of divine intent is achieved when modern technology is put to the use of spreading godliness around the world,” he said.
“It was extremely moving to see all the countries, especially from the Kremlin for the first time,” said Zalman Shmotkin, a rabbinical student who helped coordinate the event.
“One of the children of Chernobyl thanked the rebbe from the Kotel (Western Wall) for helping him. The rebbe had tears in his eyes,” Shmotkin said.
BROADCAST AROUND THE GLOBE
The two-hour event was broadcast on 70 public television stations across the United States and 1,400 cable stations in North America.
Satellite-fed cable stations broadcast the ceremony in Israel, Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, Venezuela, Britain, France, Italy, Australia, Hong Kong, Japan and India.
There was live feed from such locations as Brooklyn, Moscow, Hong Kong, Melbourne, Australia, and Paris, where 22,000 people gathered at the Eiffel Tower for the event.
On Eastern Parkway, outside Lubavitcher headquarters, some 3,000 people watched a giant television screen in the rain.
An estimated 3,000 Soviet Jewish immigrants celebrated the first night of Chanukah in a park in West Hollywood, an area known as the “Little Moscow” of Los Angeles.
The crowd, evenly divided between adults and children, joined in the lighting of the first Chanukah candle, followed by a carnival with rides, games, raffles and lots of food.
Igor Shnader, a 50-year old dentist who moved from Moscow to Los Angeles last March, found the ceremony particularly meaningful.
In the Soviet Union, he said, “I know that I am a Jewish man, but I cannot celebrate.”
The Los Angeles event was organized by the Chabad Russian Immigrant Synagogue.
(JTA correspondent Tom Tugend in Los Angeles contributed to this report.)