Hundreds of Jewish Muscovites gathered Sunday night in below-freezing weather to witness the lighting of a huge Chanukah menorah in front of the Bolshoi Theater.
“Everyone there got into the spirit. There was dancing. It was just wonderful,” said Rabbi Berel Lazar, a Lubavitch leader who helped organize the event, which was officially sanctioned by the Moscow city government.
Although the Lubavitch movement sponsor large outdoor menorah around the world, the tradition in Moscow is only a few years old and has at times sparked fears of anti-Semitism, Lazar said.
The gold-painted, metal menorah was lit by Yechiel Fried, a longtime member of the local Marina Roscha Synagogue who is now in his late 80s.
As the temperatures dropped to some 60 degrees below zero, Fried was lifted by a crane to the top of the menorah. Despite difficulties caused by the bitter wind, he managed to light the first candle for the eight-day festival.
The event – which featured fireworks, music by the Red Army Band, Jewish music sung by schoolchildren and kosher doughnuts – was filmed by Russia’s government-owned Ostankino Television and broadcast via satellite to Jerusalem, New York and Paris.
Lazar said there are two other outdoor menorahs being lit this year in Moscow – one outside a large business complex and the other near the Marina Roscha Synagogue.