Hanukkah, with record crowds attending thousands of public menorah lightings.
In central Ohio, this year’s Hanukkah celebrations, including the Wednesday event in Bexley, have been bigger than ever, said Rabbi Areyah Kaltmann, executive director of the Lori Schottenstein Chabad Center in New Albany. There is a public menorahlighting event every night of the eight-day festival.
“We believe in adding light and goodness and kindness in everything we do,” Kaltmann said. “That’s what the menorah lightings across Columbus are all about.”
The public events have become even more important because of the rise of anti-Semitism in America, said local Jewish leaders.
“Hanukkah is a joyful time of year,” said Joel Marcovitch, CEO of JewishColumbus, created this year when the Columbus Jewish Foundation and the Jewish Federation of Columbus merged. Marcovitch added that this year’s celebration has taken on significant meaning because of the tragedy in Pittsburgh.
“The world is a dark
place, we need to be the light, and spread the light,” he said. “Hanukkah is an opportunity to see the light. Every day, the light grows.”
Since the synagogue shooting, a Duke University mural made as a tribute to the victims was defaced by a swastika; anti-Semitic graffiti was sprayed on a Columbia University professor’s office walls; and a man said “Heil Hitler, Heil Trump” and did the Nazi salute during a “Fiddler on the Roof” performance in Baltimore.
“People who target Jews, I think they expect us to cower in fear, and we want to respond with increased Jewish pride, and that’s one of the really big things with the lighting of the menorah,” said Chaim Landa, spokesman for Chabad. org, a flagship website of the Chabad-Lubavitch Hasidic movement, which has more than 1,000 centers in the country. “It’s about sharing the message of Hanukkah as well as the symbol of Jewish pride.”
The central Ohio festivities are among approximately 250,000 menorahs and 11 million candles being lit throughout the United States and Canada for Hanukkah, according to Chabad.org. Hanukkah means dedication and celebrates the rededication of the holy temple in Jerusalem after it was reclaimed when Jews won a three-year war against a
larger and stronger Syrian and Greek army in 164 B.C.
To rededicate the temple, they needed oil to light the menorah but could only find enough to keep the flames burning for one night. Instead, the oil lasted for eight days.
An initiative to encourage public menorah lightings began 45 years ago, in 1973, and continues today, nearly 2,200 years after the victory.
This year, more people were asked to participate in public menorah lightings across the country as “a sign of solidarity and pride in the face of mounting anti-Semitism,” according to Chabad. org.
“Our response to negativity is just to be more positive, and automatically that’s how you banish darkness,” Kaltmann said. “Even though Hanukkah is a Jewish festival, it has a universal theme that we can combat darkness through light, kindness and acts of goodness. We have to know we are never alone, and we are blessed with freedom of religion in America.”
For her part, Skolnik said: “Throughout history, the odds have always been against the Jewish community, but I think that’s the amazing thing. No matter the odds, the Jewish community will always be around.”