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Where to celebrate Hanukkah in San Francisco in 2023

A family stands in Ghiradelli square wearing matching Hanukkah sweaters.
San Francisco's Jewish Community Center returns to Ghirardelli Square for its sixth annual “glowing” Hanukkah carnival of live music, dreidel, crafts and a communal menorah lighting. | Source: Courtesy JCCSF

Hanukkah isn’t the most significant holiday on the Jewish calendar, but it’s one of the most fun. On what other occasion do you get to gamble and eat fried foods for a whole week?

In San Francisco, celebrations of this year’s festival of lights will include everything from the lighting of the traditional 25-foot "mama menorah" in Union Square to an ugly menorah contest judged by a “faux drag queen” and a Hanukkah singalong of the Adam Sandler classic. 

While we’re in the festive mood, December features not one but several homages to the age-old Jewish tradition of spending Christmas in a Chinese restaurant. 

RELATED: Holiday Shopping in San Francisco: Best Places To Buy Gifts

So Happy Hanukkah 5784—bundle up in your tacky sweater and grab an egg roll. 

A tahini and chocolate babka with ice cream.
A chocolate tahini babka by Hadeem chef Spencer Horovitz, who specializes in babkas, including special flavors for Hanukkah. | Source: Courtesy Hadeem

Hadeem

Holiday Pop-up and Bake Sale at Buddy

📍 3115 22nd St.
🗓️ Dec. 5 and 6, dinner is $150 a head.
🔗 wearehadeemsf.com

Like a lot of American Jews, Hadeem chef Spencer Horovitz grew up eating Chinese food at Christmastime. This year, his Jewish California cuisine pop-up is joining forces with Four Kings, which will soon open a Cantonese restaurant in Chinatown, for a holiday-themed one-night-only event on the eve of Hanukkah they’re calling “Four Kings and Hadeem present: Christmas at Buddy” with a six-course dinner centered on Jewish and Cantonese dishes. The day before, you can stock up on Horovitz’s famous babka at a pop-up bake sale at the same location, choosing from flavors from baklava to cheddar and scallion to individual-sized sufganiyot-style babka that are fried like a doughnut and filled with raspberry and quince jam.

Bill Graham Menorah Project

📍 333 Post St.
🗓️ Dec. 7-14 | 5 p.m. most nights
🎟 Free
🔗 billgrahammenorah.org

A giant, 25-foot-tall, 15-foot-wide menorah installed in Union Square has been lit every year since 1975, when rock promoter and Holocaust survivor Bill Graham, along with other community leaders, banded together to organize the first big, public candle-lighting ceremony outside of Israel, according to the organizers—a community tradition that is carried out in cities around the world. As usual, folks will gather in the city’s central shopping district to light the “mama menorah” each night of Hanukkah with drinks, dreidel, music and more.

Shabbat at Jewseum: Hanukkah

📍 736 Mission St.
🗓️ Dec. 9 | 1-4 p.m.
🎟 Free with museum admission
🔗 www.thecjm.org

Celebrate the holiday with a cheeky Hanukkah cabaret program that features art, stories and a singalong with bandleader Marc Capelle that will include favorites like Tom Lehrer's “Hanukkah in Santa Monica” as well as old standards like “I Have a Little Dreidel.” “Shabbos queen” Miss Shugana (neé Jodi Goldstein) will read Hanukkah tales and later judge an “ugliest menorah” contest. “There are a shocking number of ugly menorahs,” a museum spokesperson explained in an email. “Basically, at some time or another, just about every menorah-sized random object has been transformed into a menorah—scrub brushes, hostess twinkies, vegas slot machines, etc. … Visitors are invited to bring in their own ugly menorah to enter the contest.” 

Adam Mansbach, the author of the hit book Go the F**k to Sleep, will introduce his new novel, The Golem of Brooklyn—a “hijinks-filled modern take on the golem of Ashkenazi Jewish mythology.” Wise Sons Jewish deli will sell its famous latkes and sufganiyot throughout.

A head shot of Miss Shugana, a 'faux drag queen.'
Miss Shugana, a "faux drag queen," will read Hanukkah stories and judge an ugly menorah contest at San Francisco's Contemporary Jewish Museum. | Source: Courtesy the Contemporary Jewish Museum

Glowing Hanukkah Pop-Up

📍 900 North Point St.
🗓️ Dec. 10 | 3-6 p.m.
🎟 Free
🔗 jccsf.org

SF’s Jewish Community Center returns to Ghirardelli Square for its sixth annual “glowing” Hanukkah carnival of live music, dreidel, crafts and a communal menorah lighting. Hot, fresh donuts from Harvey’s Donuts and crispy latkes and other delights from King Knish will be available. Glittery, light-up and glow-in-the-dark outfits are encouraged, as are the aforementioned kitschy sweaters.

Sufganiyot from Loquat Bakery

📍 198 Gough St.
🗓️ Open Mondays, Thursdays, Fridays, 8 a.m.-4 p.m. | Saturdays-Sundays, 8 a.m.-5 p.m.
☎️ 415-932-6816
🔗 loquatsf.com

In case you haven’t eaten enough jelly doughnuts, pick up a box of sufganiyot, perfectly fluffy with a delicate flurry of powdered sugar on top, along with whatever else strikes your fancy in the pastry case—babka or boureka, perhaps.

Latkes at Saul’s Delicatessen

📍 1475 Shattuck Ave., Berkeley
🗓️ Open Sundays-Thursdays | 8 a.m.-9 p.m.
☎️ 510-848-3354
🔗 saulsdeli.com

As one of the only authentic Jewish delicatessens in the Bay Area, the pressure to deliver good latke for Hanukkah is high, but Saul’s rises to the occasion. You might try to plan your visit somewhere around the fourth night, when you’re likely all schmaltzed out at home and need a break from cooking. You can also preorder latkes, brisket, kugel, gelt and sufganiyot for takeout.

Menorah Car Parade

📍 Safeway Parking Lot, 1335 Webster St.
🗓️ Dec. 14 | 6 p.m.
🎟 RSVP required at info@chabadsf.org
🔗 www.billgrahammenorah.org/chanukah-parade

Join with or without a rooftop menorah, and the organizers have menorahs available for your car. Enough said. Menorah lighting and Hanukkah gelt to follow the parade.

Kung Pao Kosher Comedy

📍Imperial Palace Restaurant, 818 Washington St.
🗓️ Dec. 23-25 | Doors 4:30 p.m., dinner 5 p.m., show 6 p.m., cocktail show 8:30 p.m.
🎟 $65-$100
🔗 koshercomedy.com

For the past 30 years, Kung Pao Kosher Comedy has answered the question of what Jews are supposed to do on Christmas with a night of comedy. This year, the event is being held in an actual Chinese restaurant, the Imperial Palace in Chinatown. Livestream tickets are also available. 

Rachel Scheier can be reached at rscheier@sfstandard.com