The ceremony marks the 30th anniversary of the first National Menorah lighting in 1979. President Jimmy Carter attended that ceremony.
Emanuel, who is Jewish, is holding the event on the Ellipse in front of the White House.
Emanuel on crane lighting candle (Photo: AP)
Emanuel was invited to the ceremony as a guest of honor. With a yarmulke on his head, he ascended on a crane to light one of the large candles.
Some 1,000 members of the Jewish community took part in the festive event, which took place on a rainy and gloomy day.
The participants enjoyed the traditional holiday feast, latkes and doughnuts, and the children received dreidels.