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Christmas Gift Guide

The rabbi, the menorah, and the robot

Rabbi Yosef Langer and robot Isaac

David Calkins' Isaac

Isaac lights the shamash

Mama Menorah

Lighting of the candles

Isaac lights the shamash

David Calkins' Isaac

On Tuesday night in San Francisco's Union Square, beneath the wreath-lit facade of Macy's and amid the crisp cold of holiday cheer, Rabbi Yosef Langer lit up a 22-foot menorah -- with a little help from a robot.

After helping to warm up the crowd with some robot dancing, Isaac was carried to the giant mahogany and steel menorah, built and funded by late rock impresario Bill Graham, and now known as the "Mama Menorah" because of the many other public menorahs it's inspired around the globe.

The 5.5-foot humanoid lit the shamash (the helper flame used to kindle the candelabrum's other lights) on the 3-ton menorah, a fixture at San Francisco's annual public Hanukkah candle lighting since 1975.

In doing so, Isaac, namesake of sci-fi author Isaac Asimov, brought a decidedly geeky gild to the decades-old proceedings.

Caption by / Photo by James Martin/CNET
Rabbi Yosef Langer and robot Isaac atop the 22-foot menorah in Union Square in San Francisco on Tuesday, December 3, 2013, the seventh night of Hanukkah.
Caption by / Photo by James Martin/CNET
Isaac the robot was created by David Calkins, head of the Robotics Society of America. Built on a Lego Mindstorm programmable robotics platform, Isaac is equipped with motors and sensors, and can deliver an audible "hello" and "thank you" via speakers in his back.
Caption by / Photo by James Martin/CNET
Isaac the humanoid robot lights the shamash (the helper flame used to kindle the candelabrum's other lights) on the 3-ton "Mama Menorah," a fixture at San Francisco's annual public Hanukkah candle lighting since 1975.
Caption by / Photo by James Martin/CNET

The 3-ton "Mama Menorah," a fixture at San Francisco's annual public Hanukkah candle lighting since 1975.

The Bill Graham Menorah Project is a program of Chabad SF, part of a movement within mainstream Jewish tradition with its roots in the Chassidic movement of the 18th century. Today, more than 3,000 Chabad centers are located in more than 65 countries including South Africa, South America, Russia, Australia, India, the UK, and many parts of the US. They host classes, lectures, and workshops on Jewish topics; religious services; and special events as needed in their community.

In San Francisco in 1975, community leaders joined together to create the first big public menorah and celebration of Chanukah outside of Israel. The San Francisco "Mama Menorah" public celebration has become a global phenomenon with large menorahs lit annually in over 500 cities worldwide.

Caption by / Photo by James Martin/CNET
Rabbi Yosef Langer parades his flame in the crowd of hundreds in San Francisco's Union Square as the Hanukkah lighting begins Tuesday evening.
Caption by / Photo by James Martin/CNET
Isaac lights the shamash atop the 3-ton "Mama Menorah" in San Francisco's Union Square Tuesday, December 3, 2013.
Caption by / Photo by James Martin/CNET
Robot creator David Calkins and Isaac peer over the top of the 3-ton menorah during Tuesday's ceremony in Union Square.
Caption by / Photo by James Martin/CNET
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