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The World's Largest Menorah

The World’s Largest Menorah, to be lit near Central Park, is an enormous steel beamed structure standing 32 feet high. Not only does it commemorate the historic miracle that Hanukkah celebrates, but it also offers Yidden metros a sense of New York City’s Jewish community at a time when it seems the entire city is festooned with Christmas lights and Santas.

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It’s not even Hanukkah yet, and my radar is going full blast.

Two points for a menorah in a boutique’s front window, five points for a dreidel spinning on my friend’s coffee table, seven points for the neighborhood bakery’s tray of sufganiyot, the traditional Hanukkah jelly donuts.

But then my radar really went off — so much so I want to tell my childhood rabbi, so much so that my mother would positively kvell with joy.

I discovered the World’s Largest Menorah, to be lit near Central Park at Fifth Avenue and 59th Street from Dec. 25 through Jan. 4.

Public menorah lighting is ideal for young people spending their first Hanukkah away from their mom’s latkes, college students who don’t want to light their dorm on fire, and young New York professionals who can swing by on their way home from work.

Not only does the giant menorah, standing 32 feet high, commemorate the historic miracle that Hanukkah celebrates, but it offers Yidden metros a sense of New York City’s Jewish community at a time when it seems the entire city is festooned with Christmas lights and Santas.

“The world’s largest Hanukkah menorah stands as a symbol of freedom of democracy and delivers the message of light over darkness and freedom over oppression,” explains Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman, director of the Lubavitch Youth Organization, which funds the event. “The menorah also delivers a message of hope. The candles that we light throughout the world will usher in the great light, the eternal light of the great redemption and a better world for all of mankind.”

The World’s Largest Menorah, a gold-colored, 4,000-pound structure, is the work of Israeli artist Yaakov Agam, who is internationally renowned for his contemporary art. The menorah has nine genuine oil lamps, eight for the straight menorah branch, and one for the Shamash, or the helper candle.

Hanukkah, often called the festival of lights, is a celebration of a historic victory of the Jews against the Syrian-Greek regime that was a threat to Jewish life. When the Jews entered Jerusalem and their Holy Temple to light the menorah, the small amount of oil used miraculously lasted eight days and nights.

According to the Lubavitch Youth Organization, there are specially designed glass chimneys to protect the Hanukkah lights from Central Park winds. Because of the menorah’s height, Con Edison assists the lighting by using a crane to lift each person to the top.

Though New York has always had a large and vibrant Jewish community, the public menorah lighting only dates back to 1977, when Abraham David Beam, the first openly Jewish mayor of New York City, publicly lit a menorah. This year Jewish politicians Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Senator Charles Schumer and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver will be attending and lighting on the first night of Hanukkah.

Each night, the lighting will take place at 5:30 p.m. The event will have live music, singing and dancing for all ages and an array of traditional Hanukkah food.

Rabbis explain that menorah lighting is considered a mitzvah, or good deed, and symbolically represents the fire of the soul rising to the source. Each branch of the menorah corresponds to the seven channels of spiritual self-expression.

The Israeli town of Afula may have the record for the biggest pile of sufganiyot on Hanukkah, and Skokie, Ill., for spinning 200 dreidels at one time, but here in Manhattan, a Guinness World Record is pending for the World’s Largest Menorah.

When I was a college freshman, my synagogue in New Jersey sent me a menorah. When I opened it and the chocolate Hanukkah gelt (coins) spilled out, I was suddenly homesick. I’d always lit the candles with my family. Little did I know that a public menorah lighting could have been my quick fix. What better way to remind Jews that in this city we’re never alone.