Will the ten thousand people who flood Universal City Walk’s cinema square to witness Chabad of the Valley’s menorah lighting and watch the giant Astrovision screen beam scenes from Chanukah around the world on Tuesday, December 27, from 5-9 p.m., know where to look first?
City Walk’s streetscape that features a sky-scraping electric guitar, a giant ape hanging from a storefront, and enough neon to rival Vegas, is the perfect backdrop for Chabad’s upcoming Chanukah Menorah lighting that will feature a kaleidoscope of important people, Jewish rock, and patriotic tributes. In the past Los Angeles city officials and Red Sox right fielder Gabe Kapler were hoisted up by cherry picker to light Chabad’s 18-foot tall steel menorah that weighs in at well over 1,000 lbs.
Rabbi Mayer Greene, who knows that kids and their families expect excellence from his decades Chabad of the Valley’s director of youth activities, is producing the event with a team of Chabad representatives so it runs seamlessly from securing special security to booking Avraham Fried, a bona fide superstar of Jewish music, who will bring his trademark soul sounds to the night. Fresh from the release of their hit “Tracht Gut” CD, Eighth Day, a Jewish alt-rock group with deep Lubavitch roots will riff a few sets, too.
If that’s not enough excitement, there will even be an award-winning juggler, an award winning one, on stage and kosher food will be sold on site. Students who won school-sponsored Chanukah writing contests at local public schools and Jewish day schools will receive prizes, similar to last year’s electric scooters, from Chabad at the event. “It will be a four-hour action packed event,” said Rabbi Yanky Kahn, Chabad of the Valley’s director of development, “no one will be bored.”
The night of head spinning fun during hours usually occupied by dreidel spinning is the brainchild of Chanie Baitelman, Chabad’s representative in Studio City. She and her husband, Rabbi Yossi Baitelman, lead a Chabad house a mile away from Universal City Walk. “What better place to publicize Chanukah than a place that attracts so many people during this season? You see thousands of people walking by and they suddenly stop and watch the giant screen as they see the menorah being lit at the Eiffel Tower,” said Rabbi Baitelman. “It’s amazing.”
When Chabad of the Valley outgrew its mall menorah lighting events, kindling the lights at the studio-owned venue became a yearly event not despite of its Hollywood ties but because of them, according to executive director of Chabad of the Valley, Rabbi Joshua Gordon. “Even in a world represented by City Walk culture, there is a G-d. There is a menorah. There is the triumph of light over darkness, freedom over tyranny,” said Rabbi Gordon. In the Chanukah talks of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory, he “stressed repeatedly the importance of the Chanukah menorah as tool that can illuminate the darkest corners of the deepest exile. The menorah’s light digs deep and invigorates us all,” Rabbi Gordon said.
Chanukah’s place in Jewish history as a miraculous military victory, when a band of Jews led by a priestly family fought victoriously against mighty armies, is particularly significant this year. In recognition of the sacrifice made by America’s military, representatives from the U.S. armed forces and members of the Israeli Defense Forces will be honored at the lighting. “In a world enshrouded in darkness, when we are faced with adversity from within and without, we salute those who, like the Maccabees, are standing up against tyranny today,” said the Associate Director of Chabad of the Valley Rabbi Mordechai Einbinder.
Now in its fourth year, the City Walk event has had a significant impact on the Jews of southern California. Once, after the giant menorah was kindled and a video of the Chanukah around the world was broadcast on the huge outdoor screen, Rabbi Gordon received a letter from a man who attended the event with his children and grandchildren. The man wrote: “The Rebbe really knew what he was doing when he called for public Chanukah events of this magnitude. Wow”