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Stephen Wise Temple Hosts Drive-Thru ‘LIT Hanukkah’ Light Show Experience

The light spectacle spans the entire Stephen Wise campus and is put on through The Lam Media Center.
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December 10, 2020

When writer and producer Michael Lam was a kid, he asked his dad, Stephen Wise Temple’s Cantor Nathan Lam, why they didn’t decorate their house with lights for Hanukkah when it was supposed to be the Festival of Lights.

“Hanukkah is supposed to be fun, it’s a party,” Lam, now 45 said, remembering the yearly discussion. “I always thought, ‘we should be allowed to put lights up.’”

Decades later, Lam is lighting up the neighborhood and lifting L.A. spirits with “LIT Hanukkah,” a drive-thru light show experience for everyone to enjoy all eight nights of Hanukkah.

Photo by Molly Marler

The light spectacle spans the entire Stephen Wise campus and is put on through The Lam Media Center, a Stephen Wise initiative founded in honor of Nathan and Donna Lam in celebration of the cantor’s 40 years of service. The center serves as a production studio for audio, video and animation aiming to transform the way future generations experience Jewish tradition.

Michael, who is also the director, wanted this year’s Hanukkah celebration to be special since the coronavirus pandemic devastated so many communities this year. Always thinking big, he realized the scope of the project—which was imagined two years ago— was a bit ambitious for the non-profit Media Center.

“In September [2020] I said, ‘what if we did it as a drive-thru?’ Then my stomach dropped,” Lam said. “It’s all about creating a sense of community when everyone has to be isolated and in your cars.”

Inspired by his six-year-old and 10-year-old kids, who love hip-hop, technology and art exhibitions, “LIT Hanukkah” is a hybrid of Hanukkah themes, digital laser mapping, music and light installations. Lam told the Journal he wanted this light experience to not just be a Hanukkah parade or small party for kids but an event people of all ages can get excited about.

“LIT Hanukkah” is a hybrid of Hanukkah themes, digital laser mapping, music and light installations.

Now open to the public, groups of seven cars at a time enter the 30-minute immersive experience. Using FM radio or an audio app provided to you upon entering, members inside the car will be able to hear what’s going on without rolling down their windows. The exhibitions feature LED screens, 50 infinity mirrors, disco balls, synchronized lights, four-foot-tall dreidels, an animated short film, musical playlists, new original Hanukkah music and a tunnel of lights designed by immersive artist VJ Jeff Tortorice. When cars drive through the projection tunnel, they will see a mosaic-light show on 200 foot-long panels. It all leads up to the grand finale, “Story of Light” which is a giant glass projection wall designed by world-class projection artist Bart Kresa.

Photo by Molly Marler

“It’s like [Disneyland’s] ‘It’s A Small World’ meets a projection mapping park,” Lam said. “We really tried to make it a celebration of light.”

Since everyone must remain masked in their cars for the entirety of the experience, the LIT Hanukkah experience is also compliant with the recent COVID-19 restrictions placed in Los Angeles, which started on Dec. 6.  Construction for the colossal drive-thru installation began on Dec. 4 with early test runs of the experience starting on Dec. 6. Lam said they want to make sure everything runs smoothly with limited technical difficulties since everything relies on technology to run efficiently.

While the Maccabees are only referenced twice, the miracle of Hanukkah is referenced throughout each exhibition.

“It’s sick. I can’t believe how beautifully it came together,” Lam said. “The whole experience is meant to be holistic from start to finish. Each exhibition builds on it so we are telling a story throughout.”

The clergy team at Stephen Wise —including his parents—is also excited to share this experience with the community.

“We are delighted to have LIT as the inaugural event of the Lam Media Center, lighting up the world at a time when it needs that light the most,” Donna and Cantor Nathan Lam said in a joint email to the Journal. “It gives us great joy to see the faces of young and old alike as they experience this unique and awe-inspiring Jewish celebration.”

Those who attend “LIT Hanukkah” will also witness the premiere of Hanukkah short-film, “The Broken Candle,” a part of the exhibition located at the mini drive-in theatre at the top of Wise’s campus. The original animated short film was written by Lam, and follows a box of Hanukkah candles chosen for the hanukkiah each night of the holiday. Starring Tiffany Haddish, Eugenio Derbez, Tom Kenny, Vanessa Marshall, Dave Boat, Keili Lefkovitz and Mark Feuerstein, the candles learn that even if a candle is broken, it doesn’t mean their spirit is.

Stephen Wise Senior Rabbi Yoshi Zweiback told the Journal via email that this is the perfect time to do an event like this. The resilience that comes with the story of Hanukkah is something that many Jews and non-Jews alike can relate to during this difficult year.

“Hanukkah is about bringing light into the world in the midst of the deepest darkness,” Zweiback said. “We are very excited to be able to safely bring some light to our community right now in the midst of this dark time for our world.”

LIT Hanukkah is open until Dec. 20 at Stephen Wise Temple. Each ticket is $75 per car and tickets are required upon entry. Hours vary. For more information on time slots and tickets, visit the website.

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