National Menorah Lit in Washington

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(CNN) — On Sunday, as he has for more than 20 years, Rabbi Levi Shemtov presided over the annual lighting of the National Menorah.

The event dates back to 1979, but it was President Ronald Reagan who officially designated the candelabrum, placed in the Ellipse just south of the White House, the National Menorah.

Reflecting on his most memorable moment attending the menorah lighting through the years, Shemtov, executive vice president of the American Friends of Lubavitch, said, “I was up there (on the stage) on a windy day and my hat blew off, and everyone cheered,” even though it was at his expense, he reminisced. The moment, he said, lives on the Internet.

Just adjacent to the White House Christmas tree, the 30-foot menorah stands high enough to be seen from afar, and its height is regulated under Jewish law.

“It’s got to be visible, so it has to be at least two and half feet off the ground minimum, and not higher than 30 feet, because the rabbinical authorities deem that to be the height at which a person has to crane their neck to see it,” Shemtov said.

The Chabad group of Orthodox Jews who organize the event say that for the thousands of people who watch the broadcast of the illumination of the menorah, it is a signal that the eight-day religious holiday has begun.

Jeffrey Zients, deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget, was among the guests of honor to help light the first candle. The United States Navy Band also performed.

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