Pub­lic meno­rahs seen as sym­bols of hope for Hanukkah

The Herald (Rock Hill) - - Scoreboard - BY JONATHAN M. PITTS

Out­side a vol­un­teer fire­house in north­ern Bal­ti­more County, dozens of peo­ple gather for a cer­e­mony that brings to life an old Jewish proverb: A lit­tle bit of light pushes away a lot of dark­ness.

Shalom Zirkind, an Ortho­dox rabbi, presided over the light­ing of a 12-foot-tall meno­rah at sun­down, Dec. 2, as the an­nual Jewish hol­i­day of Hanukkah be­gan.

It is be­lieved to be the first pub­lic meno­rah light­ing north of the Belt­way in Mary­land – and the lat­est ex­am­ple of an in­creas­ingly pop­u­lar prac­tice that brings cel­e­bra­tion of the Fes­ti­val of Lights out­doors and into the pub­lic square.

Zirkind ex­pected the evening to carry an ap­pro­pri­ately out­size mes­sage, com­ing as it does in a year marked by an in­crease in faith-re­lated hate crime in the United States, in­clud­ing the hor­rific mass shoot­ing that left 11 peo­ple dead in a Pitts­burgh sy­n­a­gogue in Oc­to­ber.

Hanukkah com­mem­o­rates a spe­cial event in Jewish his­tory, but in a larger sense, Zirkind says, it sig­ni­fies hope dur­ing times of trou­ble.

“The mes­sage of Hanukkah can be found in that old say­ing, ‘Dark­ness isn’t pushed away with a broom,' “he says. “The only way to com­bat sense­less hate is with sense­less love. The only way to com­bat dark­ness is with light.”

The light­ing of the can­dles in the nine­branched can­de­labras called meno­rahs is the cen­tral rite of Hanukkah, the eight-day hol­i­day on the Jewish cal­en­dar that com­mem­o­rates seem­ingly mirac­u­lous events that took place nearly 2,200 years ago.

Around 160 B.C., lead­ers of the mighty Syr­i­anGreek em­pire or­dered the loot­ing of the Jews’ most sa­cred place of wor­ship, the Sec­ond Tem­ple in Jerusalem, and banned the prac­tice of their faith.

These acts of re­pres­sion sparked a re­volt on the part of a cadre of Jewish rebels, the Mac­cabees, who de­feated their pow­er­ful op­pres­sors and re­claimed and reded­i­cated the tem­ple.

If that weren’t miracle enough, Jewish scrip­ture says that when the vic­to­ri­ous rebels at­tempted to light can­dles in the tem­ple, they found only enough olive oil to last for a day, but the flames burned for eight days. That is re­mem­bered in the eight days of the hol­i­day and eight of the can­dles in the cer­e­mo­nial meno­rah. (A ninth, the shamash, is used to light the oth­ers at the rate of one per day.)

For cen­turies there- af­ter, Jews lit small meno­rahs and placed them out­side the front en­trances to their homes ev­ery Hanukkah in cel­e­bra­tion of the mir­a­cles.

As the gen­er­a­tions passed, though, and Jews were re­peat­edly forced to live among peo­ple hos­tile to their faith, most brought the meno­rahs in­doors “out of fear for their own lives,” says Rabbi Sh­muel Ka­plan, the di­rec­tor of Chabad-Lubav­itch of Mary­land, the state chap­ter of a world­wide move­ment whose mis­sion is to pre­serve, share and teach the tra­di­tions of the Jewish faith.

The light­ing of meno­rahs in pub­lic spa­ces didn’t come about un­til the 1970s, Ka­plan says, when Rabbi Me­nachem M. Sch­neer­son, then the pow­er­fully in­flu­en­tial di­rec­tor of Chabad-Lubav­itch, de­cided it was time for Jews to stop con­ceal­ing their re­li­gious prac­tices and bring them into the open.

He ini­ti­ated the first such event in 1974, when a hand­ful of his fol­low­ers fash­ioned a 4-foot meno­rah of wood and lit the can­dles in front of that en­dur­ing sym­bol of Amer­i­can free­dom, In­de­pen­dence Hall in Philadel­phia.

The tra­di­tion grew, as did the meno­rahs them­selves. Con­cert pro­moter Bill Gra­ham, a Holo­caust sur­vivor, do­nated a 22footer for a pub­lic light­ing in Union Square in San Fran­cisco, and in 1979, then-Pres­i­dent Jimmy Carter lit the shamash of a jumbo meno­rah on the White House lawn.

GIL­LIAN JONES Berk­shire Ea­gle

Drew Zuck­er­man, 9, lights the can­dles on the meno­rah as mem­bers of the in­ter­faith and Jewish com­mu­nity par­tic­i­pate in the first ever meno­rah light­ing cer­e­mony in North Adams, Mass., to cel­e­brate Hanukkah on Dec. 2.

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