New York City is home to one of the largest Jewish populations in the world, so it’s no surprise that it’s a great city to celebrate Hanukkah.
So, what’s Hanukkah about? Hanukkah celebrates an event in the second century B.C. when a group of Jewish rebels called the Maccabees were victorious over the Syrian-Greek army that tried to suppress Jewish culture and religion. The Jews rededicated their ransacked temple by lighting the menorah. Although they had very little oil, the lamps kept burning for eight consecutive nights — believed to be a miracle.
The following are great ways to celebrate being Jewish in New York City.
1. Menorah Lighting Events
Hanukkah is a Jewish festival usually celebrated with candle lighting and small presents in the home. A group called the Menorah Project looks to raise awareness of Hanukkah. The group is poised to light the world’s largest menorah, reaching 52 feet into the sky at Times Square. A celebrity-filled TV special featuring the menorah lights will be held on December 18, 2022, the first night of Hanukkah.
Other menorah lighting events include one at Grand Army Plaza in Brooklyn, known for its picturesque Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Arch, a tribute to the plaza’s Revolutionary War and Civil War history. Midtown, at the southeast corner of Central Park, another 32-foot tall, 4,000-pound steel menorah will be lit each evening. Both locations feature nightly live music and hot latkes.
2. Enjoy Latkes
It’s no surprise that Jews like to eat — and we especially like foods that are tied to our memory and culture. So, what better way to celebrate Hanukkah than to eat a pastrami sandwich and latkes at a Jewish deli in New York City? Here’s a great Google description of the legendary Katz’s Delicatessen: a “no-frills deli with theatrically cranky service serving mile-high sandwiches since 1888.” Katz’s Deli is also known for being featured in “that scene” from When Harry Met Sally, one of the most well-loved movies set in NYC.
Other Jewish delis that are icons in NYC include Russ and Daughters, on the lower East Side (several locations), Zabar’s on the Upper West Side, and Liebman’s Kosher Deli in The Bronx. In addition, Breads Bakery just opened a new location at Rockefeller Center, and S&P, a Jewish luncheonette, recently opened in the Flatiron District.
3. See A Broadway (Or Off-Broadway) Show
Not all shows in NYC are Christmas shows! On Broadway, see Fiddler On The Roof, a classic story of fathers and daughters, husbands and wives, and life, love, and laughter. You could also take in Funny Girl (Fanny Brice’s story), which is enjoying a reboot on Broadway. Off-Broadway, see Two Jews Talking, a comedy starring Josh Mostel (yes, he’s Zero Mostel’s son) and actor Richard Mazur. Two one-act plays bring Lou and Bud together in the Biblical past while Phil and Marty are together in contemporary Long Island. They wax philosophical in this tale of companionship and friendship.
4. Jewish Museums
See the Jewish Museum’s collection of beautiful Hanukkah menorahs, otherwise known as Hanukiah. Located on the Upper East Side’s Museum Mile, the Jewish Museum houses nearly 30,000 works of art and Judaica. Among its permanent exhibits is Culture and Continuity: The Jewish Journey, which explores how the Jewish experience has evolved from ancient times to the present. Temporary exhibits cover everything from fine art to pop culture, all with a Jewish flavor.
New York’s Central Synagogue, built in the early 1870s and restored after several fires, is a remarkable example of Moorish Revival architecture. It’s a National Historic Landmark with multiple stained-glass windows, massive chandeliers, and intricate, colorful, floral, and lattice stencils.
The Tenement Museum is a hands-on, multicultural exhibit, incorporating apartments and buildings of historical significance. Its Apartment Tours/Day In The Life 1902 exhibit brings to life the world of Jewish tenement families in the early 1900s.
In a similar vein, visit Ellis Island, through which Jews from around the world came to America and freedom.
Interested in the Holocaust? Visit the Jewish Heritage Museum. It’s within walking distance of the Freedom Tower and the 9/11 Memorial, The Oculus, and the ferry to the Statue of Liberty. Its restaurant, Lox at Cafe Bergson, is Glatt Kosher and offers new takes on Jewish and Russian food.
5. Shop At Holiday Markets
Looking for that special Hanukkah gift? Holiday markets abound throughout the city. Some Manhattan holiday markets get underway right after Halloween; others open around Thanksgiving. Many serve hot drinks and/or snacks like cookies — or they are near food vendors and restaurants. For a guide to New York City holiday markets, go here.
6. Take A Mrs. Maisel Tour
Fans of the Mrs. Maisel TV series will be overjoyed at the prospect of visiting her NYC haunts! Sign up for a tour here!
7. Unique Hotels
We all know there is a slew of hotels in New York City. There’s at least one to meet every need. Here are some that are close to Jewish iconic locations, serve Kosher food, or have historical claims to fame. Click on the links to get current pricing and make reservations.
Hotel Indigo Brooklyn
Though Jews live all over New York City, a dense population lives throughout Brooklyn’s brownstone neighborhoods, making this Brooklyn Heights hotel a beautifully central Hanukkah stay in the borough. Close to the Brooklyn and Manhattan bridges, Cobble Hill, Boerum Hill, and three subway lines, the friendly, 128-room Hotel Indigo offers free Wi-Fi, artsy furnishings, relatively large guest rooms for the Big Apple (some with kitchenettes), and if you’re willing to brave the winter cold, good views from the rooftop deck.
Warwick New York
This Jazz Age hotel has hosted musical celebrities from Elvis to the Beatles. The oversize guest rooms and suites, some with a private terrace, feature elegant decor and a prime location. Stroll to Times Square, Central Park, or Central Synagogue, each only 10 minutes away.
The Concorde offers a prime Midtown East location across the street from Central Synagogue. Each of the 37 stories holds just four chic rooms, with glorious views from every corner.
The Jewel boasts a great location and is an outstanding hotel. It’s close to Times Square, Radio City Music Hall, Rockefeller Center, St. Patrick’s Cathedral, and Central Synagogue.
Do you keep kosher? Not to worry! See this list of kosher hotels in New York City.
Make plans for a weekend in New York City to celebrate Hanukkah this year. It’ll be an oasis in a sea of Christmas — and a chance to celebrate your Jewish Heritage!
For more information about visiting New York City, see these articles: