Multiple free public menorah lighting ceremonies were held in Los Angeles County Sunday to mark the start of Hanukkah, Judaism’s eight-day commemoration of the temple rededication that followed the Maccabees’ victory over a larger Syrian army.

The Boyle Heights Public Community Menorah Lighting & Hanukkah Celebration outside the Breed Street Shul included musicians playing klezmer and mariachi music and a speech by Assemblyman Miguel Santiago, D-Los Angeles, who inserted a provision into the 2021-22 state budget to allocate $14.9 million in funding to renovate buildings on the Breed Street Shul lot.

The state funding will provide for the preservation and rehabilitation of the synagogue’s very fragile main unreinforced brick building, built in 1923, including completion of a seismic retrofit, restoration of historic finishes, compliance with Americans with Disabilities Act requirements and infrastructure upgrades.

The long-term plan is to convert the buildings on the nearly half-acre lot into a shared workspace for nonprofit organizations addressing the neighborhood’s existing and emerging social service needs, a performance and events venue for cultural and arts programming and an exhibit and gallery space focusing on Boyle Heights’ unique heritage as a port of entry for many different immigrant groups.

City Councilman Kevin de León, whose district includes Boyle Heights, Israeli Consul General Hillel Newman, Steven Sass, CEO of the Breed Street Shul Project and Rabbi Jason Rosner joined Santiago in participating in the Hanukkah service with readings and songs.

The celebration was organized by David Silvas, vice president of the Boyle Heights Neighborhood Council.

Another Hanukkah event will be held in Boyle Heights next Sunday, “Chanukah on the Eastside,” from 7-10:30 p.m. at Boyle Heights History Studios and Tours, 2026 E. 1st Street. It is organized by Boyle Heights Chavurah, which bills itself as the grassroots Jewish community of East Los Angeles.

Boyle Heights, just east of downtown, was the largest Jewish community west of the Mississippi River from 1910-1950, with some 75,000 Yiddish-speaking Eastern European immigrants living side-by-side with neighbors from a variety of backgrounds and cultures.

The community included about 30 synagogues, including Congregation Talmud Torah, commonly known as the Breed Street Shul and nicknamed “The Queen of the Shuls” due to the soaring, visually stunning Byzantine Revival design of its main building.

Following World War II, Los Angeles’ Jewish community moved west and Boyle Heights became a predominately Latino community.

The main building of the Breed Street Shul, built in 1923, suffered neglect, vandalism and abandonment beginning in the 1980s and was closed after being damaged by the 1987 Whittier earthquake. Services continued to be held in the synagogue’s original 1915 building until 1996.

The main building was saved from demolition, thanks to emergency stabilization work funded by $1.3 million of public and private funds and more than $500,000 of in-kind services.

Other free public menorah lighting ceremonies were held Sunday in Long Beach and Pacific Palisades.

Once the Jews defeated the Hellenist Syrian forces of Antiochus IV in 165 B.C. at the end of a three-year rebellion, the temple in Jerusalem, which the occupiers had dedicated to the worship of Zeus, was rededicated by Judah Maccabee, who led the insurgency begun by his father, the high priest Mattathias.

According to the story of Hanukkah, Maccabee and his soldiers wanted to light the temple’s ceremonial lamp with ritually pure olive oil as part of their rededication but found only enough oil to burn for one day. The oil, however, burned for eight days in what was held to be a miracle.

Hanukkah — which means “dedication” in Hebrew — is observed around the world by lighting candles in a special menorah called a Hanukkiah each day at sundown for eight days, with an additional candle added each day.

The reason for the lights is so passersby should see them and be reminded of the holiday’s miracle.

Other Hanukkah traditions include spinning a dreidel, a four-sided top, which partially commemorates a game that Jews under Greek domination are believed to have played to camouflage their Torah study, and eating foods fried in oil, such as latkes, pancakes of grated raw potatoes and jelly doughnuts.

Children receive Hanukkah “gelt” (the Yiddish word for money) from parents and grandparents. The tradition originated with 17th-century Polish Jews giving money to their children to give their teachers during Hanukkah, which led to parents also giving children money.

In the United States, the practice has evolved into giving holiday gifts to children and others.

Unlike on the High Holy Days of Rosh Hashana, the Jewish new year, or Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, observant Jews are permitted to work and attend school during Hanukkah, the only Jewish holiday that commemorates a military victory.

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