Representatives from the three synagogues of Santa Clarita joined together with the community to celebrate the first day of Chanukah during the annual menorah lighting ceremony on Sunday.
The ceremony, attended by hundreds, was once again held near the main entrance of Westfield Valencia Town Center and was the first major community event attended by Mayor Jason Gibbs since his appointment last week.
Mark Blazer, rabbi at Temple Beth Ami, said bringing together the Jewish community and the city of Santa Clarita, while opening the event to the public, makes the event more than just a cultural one — it also serves as a symbol of unity and friendship within the valley.
“This is the biggest event of the year for the Jewish community, that brings everybody together. All three synagogues come together and so this is really the most well-attended Jewish community event that’s in public and it’s just fun,” said Blazer. “There’s no real religious service, it’s just lighting the menorah, but also just getting together with everybody and having a good time.”
Attendees at the event were treated to doughnut holes, fresh latkes and small toys for the kids – including dreidels. There was also a performance from a choir composed of temple school children.
The mood was festive and merry – something Blazer and others said was important for the community to see. Blazer said given the rise in antisemitism recently, it was imperative that focus is not put on hatred and negativity but rather on the positive understanding that Judaism brings to the world.
“Chanukah is one of many holidays that we have throughout the year. But this year, it’s really the first time we’re coming together since this recent spate of anti-semitism and it allows us to focus on the positive, it allows us to remember that this is a country that celebrates religious traditions and has a great a great history of religious tolerance,” said Blazer. “Bringing together people of all backgrounds, in some countries, people can’t do this and it’s great that there’s a community that people can come to in Santa Clarita and come together for these kinds of events.”
Mike Schwartz, an attendee, said he’s been coming to this event for 20 years. But this year, it’s taken on a slightly different meaning.
“I think this year is probably a little more special, because of what’s been going on for the last few months,” said Schwartz, adding he’s also seen a rise in unity among the community recently. “I’m seeing that more and more the last few weeks actually, because not everybody’s bad. You know, it’s like 95% of the people are good and you just see more and more people coming together and it’s special this year, I think.”
Gibbs said he was saddened by recent reports of antisemitism and that he wanted to make himself available to anyone in the community who feels like the city’s presence would bring a sense of understanding, appreciation or awareness.
“It’s sad to hear that does happen. The reality is, we are all made up of individuals, but the individuals make up the community and understanding and appreciating our heritage, our cultures and our religions,” said Gibbs. “That diversity is all necessary to understand how we function so well as a community. We appreciate each other at the end of the day. It’s like the rabbi said in [his] messaging, we’re here to bring light, we’re here to shut out darkness. We’re here to be kind. We’re here to be gentle with people. I think that’s what the message should be and that’s a beautiful message.”