LOS ANGELES (CNS) - Free public menorah lighting ceremonies will be held at various locations in Los Angeles County today to mark the final night of Hanukkah, including in Boyle Heights, once the main center of Jewish life on the West Coast.
“Chanukah on the Eastside,” will be held from 7-10 p.m. at Boyle Heights History Tours, 2026 E. 1st St. and will include the lighting of a grand olive oil community menorah.
People planning to attend are asked to bring their own Hanukkah candles “to light up the cold and darkness of the winter months with the joy of our collective festival lights,” said Shmuel Gonzales, the founder of The Boyle Heights Chavurah, the event's organizer which bills itself as “a small and close-knit Jewish community.”
Traditional kosher Hanukkah foods from diverse Jewish traditions will be shared “pot-luck style” including latkes, sufganiyot (round jelly doughnuts), sfeng (North Africa-style yeasty and fluffy doughnuts covered in a sweet syrup); and bunuelos (fried dough balls that are among the most common of Sephardic Jewish treats for Hanukkah that are also traditional Christmas treats for Christmas in the Mexican-American tradition).
The liturgy will be led in Hebrew, Spanish and English by Gonzales, a Jewish spiritual leader nicknamed “The Barrio Boychik,” a chiefly Jewish term of endearment for a young boy or young man.
Other free public menorah lighting ceremonies today are scheduled for New Hope Community Church in Sunland (3 p.m.); The Paseo urban shopping village in Pasadena (3:30-5 p.m.); Third Street Promenade in Santa Monica (5-7 p.m.); The Grove (5:30-7 p.m.); Montage Beverly Hills (5:30 p.m.); Temple Beth Israel of Highland Park (6-9 p.m.) and other locations.
Hanukkah commemorates the temple rededication that followed the Maccabees' victory over the larger Hellenist Syrian forces of Antiochus IV in 165 B.C. at the end of a three-year rebellion.
Following the victory, the temple in Jerusalem, which the occupiers had dedicated to the worship of Zeus, was rededicated by Judah Maccabee, who led the insurgency begun by his father, the high priest Mattathias.
According to the story of Hanukkah, Maccabee and his soldiers wanted to light the temple's ceremonial lamp with ritually pure olive oil as part of their rededication but found only enough oil to burn for one day. The oil, however, burned for eight days in what was held to be a miracle.
Hanukkah -- which means “dedication” in Hebrew -- is observed around the world by lighting candles in a special menorah called a Hanukkiah each day at sundown for eight days, with an additional candle added each day.
The reason for the lights is so passersby should see them and be reminded of the holiday's miracle.
Other Hanukkah traditions include spinning a dreidel, a four-sided top, which partially commemorates a game that Jews under Greek domination are believed to have played to camouflage their Torah study, and eating foods fried in oil, such as latkes, pancakes of grated raw potatoes and jelly doughnuts.
Children receive Hanukkah “gelt” (the Yiddish word for money) from parents and grandparents. The tradition originated with 17th-century Polish Jews giving money to their children to give their teachers during Hanukkah, which led to parents also giving children money.
In the United States, the practice has evolved into giving holiday gifts to children and others.
Unlike on the High Holy Days of Rosh Hashana, the Jewish new year, or Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, observant Jews are permitted to work and attend school during Hanukkah, the only Jewish holiday that commemorates a military victory.
“As the Jewish community gathers together to celebrate this special and sacred time of year, we are reminded of God's message of hope, mercy and love,” President Donald Trump said in his Hanukkah message.