Hundreds would gather as the group lit its oil-fueled, traditional menorah in the middle of the promenade’s Center Court each night of the holiday.
But two years ago, Bayside District Corp., the public/private group that manages and promotes Downtown, decided to make some changes to Chanukah on the promenade. It ended Chabad’s monopoly of the event, deciding to instead invite a different temple from the area to host the menorah lighting each night. It also replaced Chabad’s oil-fueled menorah with an electric one.
“The thinking was to create an opportunity for different congregations throughout the Westside to help the community celebrate Chanukah,” said Kathleen Rawson, Bayside’s CEO.
The change meant that Chabad, an Orthodox temple that considers electric menorahs invalid, had to ask permission to hold a second promenade menorah lighting. It now holds its own lighting each night on the promenade just north of Center Court.
“It’s caused a little bit of heartache, but you deal with what you have,” Chabad of Santa Monica Rabbi Eli Levitansky said of the transition.
There’s no rivalry between the two camps, both sides insist, only different views of a Jewish tradition.
Bayside’s electric menorah is “symbolic, but it’s not the real deal,” Levitansky said. “There are many, many places worldwide that use electric; our idea is that we want to portray the real thing. If we’re doing it, we’d like to do it right.”
Rabbi Jeff Marx of the Santa Monica Synagogue, whose temple will host the Center Court lighting on Sunday, said using a menorah with light bulbs instead of flames is “nothing too terrible.”
However a menorah is lit, he said, “the result is still the same: we get to re-tell the story of Chanukah.”
While the rift over the lighting ceremony has caused some friction, Rawson said she believes a suitable resolution has been reached.
“I feel like we’ve worked well together and we have, really, a good solution,” she said. “We simply made room for (Chabad) to put their own [menorah lighting] on. Change is hard, but it certainly was not insurmountable.”
At Sunday’s lighting, Marx also will be leading his second attempt at a Chanukah-related world record. The goal is to gather a group on the promenade and collectively spin more than 603 dreidels simultaneously.
“I read an article a couple years ago about it,” Marx explained. “I said to myself, ‘We could definitely get enough people together here in Santa Monica to do it.'”
Marx’s first attempt last Chanukah to snatch the record from the University of Maryland Hillel managed only about 300 concurrently spinning dreidels.
Though he won’t take part in Marx’s menorah lighting ceremony, Rabbi Isaac Levitansky of Chabad of Santa Monica, said he hopes to take part in the dreidel spinning effort.
“One of the things that we do on Chanukah is we publicize the miracle of Chanukah, and this is something that publicizes the miracle of Chanukah, he said. “It’s a good thing,”