NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — Chanukah, the Jewish festival of lights, began at sundown Tuesday and lasts for eight days.

Chanukah celebrates the Jews’ struggle for religious freedom more than 2,500 years ago.

It’s a holiday wrapped in history and faith, dating back to 165 BCE, when the Jews prevailed over their oppressors who desecrated the holy temple and who outlawed the tenets of Judaism. It’s also a celebration of light chasing away the forces of evil and darkness.

More: Tricks To Preparing The Crispiest Latke This Chanukah

Candles are lit each night, recalling how one day’s supply of oil by a miracle burned for eight days in the rededicated temple in Jerusalem.

The first night of Chanukah was being celebrated in New York City with the lighting of the world’s largest menorah outside the Plaza Hotel on Fifth Avenue and 59th Street.

“We light every night at 5:30 p.m., and every night we have latkes — which is the traditional Chanukah food — for everyone in attendance. We’re also happy to supply anyone with their own Chanukah menorah,” said Rabbi Shmuel Butman, director of the Lubavitch Youth Organization, which erected the 36-foot-tall menorah 40 years ago.

The largest meroah on Long Island — 34 feet — was being lit Tuesday night at Chabad of Roslyn.

Earlier at nearby Temple Sinai of Roslyn Nursery school, children helped explain the Chanukah story, CBS2’s Carolyn Gusoff reported.

“We talked to them about that it’s a time of unity and standing up for what you believe in,” said teacher Audra Groveman. “And while we know that was so important in the past — to stand up for what we believe in — we also learn how important it is today.”

Meanwhile, the celebration of freedom of tyranny never tasted better. Shop Delight in Great Neck boasts the largest selection of latkes, Chanukah potato pancakes that have gone gourmet.

“With sweet potato, with zucchini, with butternut squash,” said owner Eddie Yakubov. “We want to make it interesting. People are sick and tired of the same thing.

Interesting and now even guilt-free. The latkes are fried in canola oil. The most popular item this year is quinoa latkes.

“Everything you see in Chanukah, even the jelly doughnuts and the custard doughnut that we make, it’s all fried in oil, because that’s the main thing that was the miracle of Chanukah.

Rabbi Michael White at Temple Sinai of Roslyn said the Chanukah message reminds us all to rededicate ourselves.

“I hope that what people will take away from Chanukah this year, indeed from the entire holiday season, is a greater commitment to connecting with people who are different from us and appreciating the value of pluralism and diversity in our world today,” he said.


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