Chanukah Celebrated in Moscow with Public Menorah Lightings

Gone are the days of furtive Jewish religious activities here.

Chanukah was ushered in here Saturday night with the lighting of the first candle by Israel’s ambassador to Russia at a concert in the great hall of the Central House of Artists.

And on Sunday night, rabbis of the Chabad movement of Lubavitcher Hasidim participated in a showy outdoor lighting of a giant Chanukah menorah outside the Bolshoi Theater.

That event and simultaneous menorah lightings near the Eiffel Tower in Paris, near the White House in Washington, at the Western Wall in Jerusalem and at Lubavitch headquarters in Brooklyn were televised via satellite hookup throughout the United States and around the world.

Other public menorah lightings took place in Los Angeles, Chicago and scores of other cities around the world.

The theme of this simultaneous celebration was “miracle.” And it pointed unabashedly to the so-called miracles of the nearly bloodless collapse of the Soviet Union, the short Persian Gulf War and the use of army troops to feed the starving in Somalia — a veritable beating of swords into plowshares.

The program was sprinkled liberally with allusions to miracles and messianism, as world figures spoke of the attributes of the Lubavitcher rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Schneerson.

The theme of miracles was also sounded at the Chanukah concert here Saturday night.

Lighting the first candle, Israeli Ambassador Chaim Bar-Lev said, “The miracle of Chanukah is not only historical. In the past year, we witnessed the miracle of the breakup of the Soviet Union and the freeing of all of its peoples.”

The event was attended by well-known Jewish cultural figures, including Yuri Lubimov, the former director of Moscow’s avant-garde Taganka Theater, who immigrated to Israel a number of years ago, and Zinovy Gerd, an actor well known to Moscow audiences.

Gerd, who is past 70, joked, in a sentence that switched from Russian to Yiddish, “I always liked Chanukah as a child, because we got a few kopeks of Chanukah gelt.”

The audience appreciated Gerd’s Yiddish, a language still spoken by many older Jews here. They also appreciated a performance of Yiddish songs by a local singer.

Outside the hall, followers of the Lubavitcher rebbe urged homebound concertgoers to light a Chanukah candle, coaching them in the prayers, which few of Moscow’s highly assimilated Jews know.

Sunday night’s lighting took place in the heart of Moscow, on Theater Square. The high-profile setting was likely to excite negative comment from the city’s far right.

But it might provoke less comment than last year, when the Lubavitchers put up a menorah outside the “White House,” the seat of the Russian Parliament and staged a concert at the Palace of Congresses, inside the Kremlin itself.

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