At City Hall in downtown Los Angeles, Valley Beth Shalom’s Rabbi Joshua Hoffman, serving as the master of ceremonies during a community Chanukah party on December 7, gave the crowd an order: “Dance over to the sufganiyot,” he said, which prompted singing, oud playing and festive dancing as many made their way to the back to nosh on jelly donuts.
The event, marking the first seven days of Chanukah–the holiday ends tonight–blended a candle lighting ceremony, musical performances, blessings and hora dancing and featured appearances by local rabbis, elected officials and community leaders. Participants in the candle lighting ceremony included Jacob Dayan, consul general of Israel in Los Angeles; rabbis Denise Eger and Mark Diamond; city council members Jan Perry, Dennis Zine, Paul Krekorian, Tom Labonge and Bill Rosendahl; and city attorney Carmen Trutanich.
Standing on a small stage in the hall’s rotunda room, each of them made a brief speech and proceeded to light a candle on the chanukiyah—or, rather, turned a bulb on the giant electric fixture.
“The miracle is that this thing is working,” Rabbi Hoffman joked, in regards to the electric chanukiyah which stood a few feet away from a large Christmas tree. “It looks a little shaky.”
The party drew a crowd of approximately 75 people, according to Mayrav Saar, program director for the Board of Rabbis of Southern California, and the mood remained light and celebratory. The Valley Beth Shalom Youth Choir; the Kolot Tikvah Choir, a vocal ensemble made up of special needs children; and world musician Yuval Ron offered the musical entertainment.
Taking place for the second year in a row at City Hall, the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles beneficiary the Board of Rabbis of Southern California organized the event. The board’s vice president, Rabbi Diamond, discussed during a phone interview prior to the event his excitement about holding the party at City Hall, despite once having hesitations about holding religious events in public spaces.
“10 to 15 years ago, I and many rabbis were very concerned about the church and state separation issues,” Diamond said. “Today we’re more sensitive to various faiths in this country. Today we have Christmas, Chanukah, Kwanza, [and] we recognize these celebrations could be done tastefully without crossing the line of separation of church and state.”
At the party, additional speakers included Councilmember Paul Koretz and City Controller Wendy Greuel. Reverend Jeff Carr, chief of staff in Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s office, led a final blessing.
Israel earned attention as well, with many of the speakers addressing the fires that ravaged thousands of acres of forests near Haifa for the past four days and took the lives of 42 people. Councilmember Rosendahl offered his condolences to the Israeli community.
“I’m sorry for the loss of life that took place,” he said. “Thank God the fires are out.”
Several of the council members spoke about lessons learned from Chanukah, meanings that transcends religious beliefs. “For me, Chanukah is the time to remember the spirit of tenacity,” Perry said, “never letting go of your goals and objectives.”
Labonge and Rosendahl, to the amusement of the crowd, read a prepared piece together, which included the statement: “Jewish tradition teaches us that we add a light to each night to symbolize that our awareness of miracles is something that encourages us to grow.”