A crowd of several hundred people gathered for the first night of Hanukkah in front of the world’s largest menorah opposite the Plaza Hotel in Manhattan on Thursday. 

The 32-foot-tall, 4,000-pound menorah drew throngs of attendees, as well as scores of policemen who lined the streets and sidewalks amid heightened security following an incident of shots being fired at Temple Israel in Albany early on Dec 7, along with ongoing tensions stemming from the Israel-Hamas war.

Governor Kathy Hochul addressed the crowd and spoke of her recent trip to Israel, calling the experience of speaking with hostages’ families “very painful.”

“I will always be there to support the people of the great state of Israel,” Hochul said, “We will stand together and fight back. The light will shine through.” 

Those in the crowd said the celebration of the Jewish festival of Hanukkah—which lasts for eight days and commemorates the recovery of Jerusalem from the Seleucid empire and rededication of the Holy Temple in second century BC—felt especially meaningful.

“The holiday of Hanukkah feels even more special to me this year as we pray for peace during this difficult time, for hope, love and a deeper bond within the community,” said Jasmine Schnall, a human resource specialist. 

“I come every year, and I’ve never seen this many people,” said Yaakov Pearson, 35. “A lot of non-Jewish people seem to have also come out to show their support.” 

Pearson is a Jewish event planner and grandson of Rabbi Dovid Raskin, the former leader of the Lubavitch Youth Organization of New York. The Lubavitch Youth Organization was responsible for erecting an early public menorah in New York in the 1970s to help raise awareness about the festival of lights

Around 5:50pm, presiding Rabbi Shmuel Butman, the current director of the Lubavitch Youth Organization, ascended the menorah in an aerial crane. 

He noted that there are 15,000 menorahs throughout the world being lit at the same time for the mitzvah, then referenced the political turmoil shadowing the evening’s festivities. 

“We do not negotiate with terrorists, we are going to clean up Gaza and then life will continue,” Butman said. “If we don’t, all those who have lost their lives would have died in vain.”

The solemn assembly became jovial after the menorah was lit. 

Speakers blasted catchy songs in Hebrew and English, which prompted some families to dance and sing along. 

A few Jewish men in suits and traditional black hats offered miniature menorahs to people in the crowd, They encouraged them to light them at home, in honor of the festival’s role in bringing warmth to the inhabitants of the house, as well as to the external world.