Board of Rabbis’ Hanukkah party at L.A. City Hall: “Bigger and better than ever”

Local rabbis, cantors, Los Angeles City Council members, community members and many others came together and celebrated Hanukkah early this year at Los Angeles City Hall.

Approximately 125 people turned out for the Board of Rabbis of Southern California’s third annual Hanukkah celebration at City Hall, taking place on the afternoon of Tuesday, December 13.

“This was bigger and better than ever,” said Rabbi Mark Diamond, executive vice president of the Board of Rabbis.

For the past three years, the Board of Rabbis, a transdenominational organization with over 300 rabbis as members, has held a free and open-to-the-public Hanukkah party at City Hall as a way to bring together the intrafaith Jewish community and local leaders both Jewish and non-Jewish. The party is held with the Office of Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.

This year’s one-hour event took place in the City Hall rotunda room. A Menorah, with nine light bulbs, stood on the stage and an even bigger Christmas tree – not apart of the celebration – decorated the center of the room. Villarigosa was not in attendance, as he is in China.

Rabbis and local officials delivered speeches one at a time while taking turns lighting candles on the menorah (well, actually, twisting a bulb on the menorah). Attendees enjoyed live music – courtesy of OurSpace, Temple Aliyah’s special needs children’s and young adult choir and Temple Beth Hillel’s choir – and free sufganiyot and Coffee Bean coffee.

City council members couldn’t participate to the full extent that the event organizers had hoped, as council was in session at the same time of the party and voting on an issue – much like a minyan, city council votes require ten members, and since there were only 11 city council members present on the day of the party, one at a time came out to the party in the rotunda room and either lit a candle or briefly danced.

“It was a great little festival to kick off Hanukkah, said Councilmember Tom LaBonge, speaking after the party in an interview.

“I came to dance and said, ‘Happy Hanuukah to everyone,’” he said.

Watch post-party video interviews with attendees:

City Council President Eric Garcetti lit one of the candles at the party; City Attorney Carmen Trutanich, City Controller Wendy Gruel, Assemblymember Mike Feuer were among the attendees.

Councilmembers Paul Koretz, Paul Krekorian, Jose Huizar and Bill Rosendahl and Jan Perry dropped by as well, as did Andrew Cushnir, executive vice president of the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles and David Siegel, Israel’s consul general for the southwestern United States.

Appointed to the position of consul general at the end this past summer, the event was Siegel’s first Hanukkah celebration at City Hall.

Participating clergy included Rabbi Judith HaLevy (Malibu Jewish Center and Synagogue), Rabbi Sarah Hronsky (Temple Beth Hillel), Rabbi Joshua Hoffman (Valley Beth Shalom), Rabbi Gilbert Kollin (Pasadena Jewish Temple and Center), Rabbi Sarah Bassin (NewGround, a Jewish-Muslim bridge-building organization); and Cantors Marcelo Gindlin and Mike Stein.

In addition to music and food, the event featured plenty of expressions of solidarity. 

“One of the best things that this event brings out is the ability of [L.A.] City Council to speak and to share their thoughts, and they all share their affiliation and their appreciation for the Jewish community,” Hoffman said. “They all talk about the underlying values that Hanukkah is all about and they really attach them to what the mission of the city is and the work that they do.”

Hanukkah doesn’t start until December 20, but the Board of Rabbis held the party early to accommodate the vacation schedules of city council members.

Diamond said that he and other clergy used to take issue with a Hanukkah celebration in a public space, but he no longer feels that way. “I think it’s a wonderful reflection of the joy of Hanukkah,” he said. 

Hronsky, who served as master of ceremonies and co-chaired the event with Hoffman, emphasized the diverse crowd the event attracts, “To have all of these communities join together to celebrate freedom of religions as well as the dedication of the temple is a beautiful thing,” she said.

“Truly a gift,” she added. Perhaps it was the perfect one for Hanukkah.