Chanukah at Universal City Walk, hosted by Chabad of the Valley, was celebrated on Sunday December 6th at 6 – 9pm. Security was high but enthusiasm was higher as many thousands came to hear the music, be entertained by guest speaker Michael Medved, and join in the event that is a tribute to Jewish pride. This was the 14th year that City Walk has hosted the evening, which has become an expression of Jewish support for Israel and a major event on the Jewish music scene, since its inauguration by Rabbi Yossi Beitelman from Chabad of Studio City.
Event organizers Rabbi Mayer Greene and Jonathan Herzog have loved growing the event from a simple Chanukah gathering with just a few bands, to a professionally produced music event of the highest caliber and a source of pride for singers and musicians who are invited to perform. More than 20 Rabbi’s and team members come on board to create the show.
Universal Studios support the Chanukah Concert, which is as popular as their New Year’s Eve event, the only massive events they allow. It is the Universal sound and lighting technicians who provide the backbone of the event and this they did with success.
Rabbi Greene knew the concert had come of age when a kosher food vendor came to him a few years ago and gave his blessing, saying that he had left his six year old daughter at home as he thought it wasn’t a suitable event for a traditional Jewish girl to attend. Instead, he could see that it was the perfect event and he had returned to bring her along.
Rabbi Greene explained, “I think the Los Angeles sense of Jewish pride is unique. Jewish people of all levels of religiosity have an integrated life with the city. In other parts of the US and globally, the Jewish experience can be segregated, but here it seems seamless and we’re proud to be part of this city identity. There’s a tolerance and an easy-going’ness that is tremendous. Still, by the same token, it’s easy for Jews to get lost, and this event is appealing to all kinds of families and the population at large. It’s not rowdy and it’s great fun and it reminds people to celebrate Chanukah with joy.”
Security was well planned with the Sherriff’s department and the LAPD, a canine unit and other levels of law enforcement who worked alongside the organizers. In the early days, security was lightweight but it’s now a highly coordinated security set up.
Herzog produces the music for the concert and admits it takes a great deal of time and negotiations to secure availability from the most popular Jewish musicians. “The Jewish music scene is based in New York but we bridge that gap. I think we have managed to bring Los Angeles into the limelight. This is now a major event. Performers covet their involvement with the concert and it’s a great audience to play for as there is so much goodwill, enthusiasm and coverage of the event.”
This year included a performance by Edon Pinchot, the 16 year old singer who won the hearts of the Jewish community by sporting his yarmulke while successfully competing on the 2012 America’s Got Talent TV show. Pinchot lives in Chicago but he flew to LA and was introduced to the crowd with video clips of his on-air performance, by radio talk show host, Michael Medved.
Gad Elbaz headlined the show but there were other surprises, including Gad Elbaz’s father, Benny Elbaz, who flew in from Israel. The father and son musicians worked a set with music from the days when Benny Elbaz played in Israel. Rabbi Mendel Lipskier was moved by the performance saying, “They were very modern-looking but they were full of Jewish pride and Chassidic warmth. Elbaz is unique and noisy with his Jewishness and it was great!”
Another highlight of the evening was a video presentation that showed the wedding of Sarah Techiya Litman to Ariel Biegel on November 26th. The young couple initially postponed their marriage when Litmans’s father and 18 year old brother were murdered by terrorists on November 13th. Subsequently, they decided to open their wedding to the public and more than 800 guests came to support them in their wedding vows. The chuppah was attended by the Chief Rabbi of Israel David Lau and Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem Shlomo Amar. Sarah Netanyahu, the Prime Minister’s wife, later blessed the newlyweds. Greene explained, “If ever there was a show of Jewish unity in the face of adversity, this was it!”