Menorahs lit across the globe as the first night of Hannukah is celebrated
Rabbi Mark Blazer of Temple Beth Ami led a small group of Jews in ushering in the first night of Hannukah on Thursday evening with the traditional lighting of the menorah in front of the Stevenson Ranch fountain, the 20th year there has been a public lighting in the area.
Hannukah, also known as the festival of lights, began at sundown on Thursday and will conclude next Friday at sundown.
Joyce Stein, the president of Temple Beth Ami, said that it’s a special time of year for the Jewish community. She was one of about 20 people to attend Thursday’s ceremony.
“I like that it’s the idea of bringing light into the world,” Stein said, “and not diminishing it but bringing it up and making it a positive experience.”
The story of Hannukah is over 2,200 years old, according to Blazer. It’s a story of two different miracles: the Maccabees fighting to take back the Temple of David from the Syrian Greeks, and the oil to light the temple upon its rededication lasting for eight nights when it was only expected to last for one.
“It’s really two things,” Blazer said. “It’s the miracle of the oil but it’s really the miracle of winning a fight that no one thought they could win.”
The Maccabees were forced to fight for the city of Jerusalem, currently the capital of Israel, in 167 B.C., according to My Jewish Learning, a nonprofit, nondenominational Jewish media organization in North America. Antiochus IV, the Syrian king, wanted to eradicate Jewish culture in the Greek empire.
“The Maccabees — led by the five sons of the priest Mattathias, especially Judah — waged a three-year campaign that culminated in the cleaning and rededication of the Temple,” the My Jewish Learning website reads.
The holiday has taken on greater significance in modern times as it typically coincides around Christmas time. Hannukah begins on the 25th day of the Jewish month of Kislev. Because the Jewish calendar follows the lunar cycle, rather than the Gregorian calendar, the actual dates that the holiday is celebrated differ from year to year, Blazer said.
This year, Blazer said the public lighting of menorahs is even more meaningful with the Israel-Hamas conflict being waged and instances of antisemitism popping up more frequently across the globe.
“There’s a part of the holiday which is supposed to be the public proclamation of the miracle,” Blazer said. “The miracle of Hanukkah is supposed to be publicly proclaimed, which is why the Hanukkah menorah is supposed to be lit. Now, with people who are a little bit more afraid of displaying it, it is a reminder that, again, what I’m telling people, what I’m teaching people, is we can’t go into hiding with the menorah. The menorah needs to be seen.”
Stein was with her friends, Randy and Vern Miller, at Thursday’s public lighting. Randy said that seeing so many people across the world feeling free to light their menorahs and not be scared to do so gives her a sense of pride.
“It just makes me even more proud to be a Jew and be out in the world and be here,” Randy said. “I’m flying the Israeli flag at my house. I have flags on my car, and I’ve gotten nothing but positives from the Santa Clarita Valley.”
After the lighting of the menorah, the community members joined together in the reciting of the three Hanukkah blessings. Cookies and doughnuts were then passed around for people to snack on.
Latkes, a traditional Hanukkah dish of potatoes and oil, were not present, but sufganiyot, otherwise known as jelly doughnuts, were.
Stein and the Millers all said that Hannukah is a time for family. Randy will be having her daughter’s family over on Saturday to celebrate the holiday.
“We’re gonna do Hanukkah and get together with the family,” Randy said. “It’s a happy time.”
Stein added: “I think family is a big key.”