Free Dec. 18 event will bring people together for family-friendly fun and tasty holiday food

City Manager Christina Turner addresses the crowd during last year’s Chanukah event at the Downtown Amphitheater as Rabbi Mendel Liberow watches. Photo Chabad South County Jewish Center Morgan Hill

By Marty Cheek

The eight-day festival known as Hanukkah or Chanukah is a holiday of hope. The Chabad South County Jewish Center invites the public to join its members at the start of the celebration at a family-friendly event held 4 p.m. Sunday Dec. 18 at the Morgan Hill Downtown Amphitheater.

Festivities include a nine-foot tall menorah lighting with live music and greetings from local dignitaries. The fun will include a fire performance, children’s crafts, giant inflatables, raffle prizes and a boutique and gift shop. Tasty munchies, including doughnuts, latkes (potato pancakes) and other traditional foods, will be available for free.

The Chanukah story is enduring because its message continues to resonate for more than 2,000 years, said Rabbi Mendel Liberow, the director of the center.

“Throughout history, the Jewish people have faced hatred from those who wished to do us physical harm to those who wished to assimilate us into their own culture,” he said. “The lights of the menorah — and the story they tell us of the Maccabees’ brave resistance against the totalitarian repression of the Syrian-Greek empire — are an everlasting symbol that despite everything, those efforts will not succeed.”’

The menorah has become recognized as a symbol of religious freedom and a reminder of the beauty of the patchwork of faiths and cultures that make up America, he said.

Chanukah is intended to be celebrated in a very public way. That makes it unique to the Jewish faith, Liberow said.

The Talmud instructs that the menorah be placed outside each home, to spread the word of the miracles that took place when the small band of Maccabees defeated the gigantic Syrian-Greek army and when the oil used to rekindle the menorah in the Jerusalem Temple miraculously lasted eight days.

South County residents gathering for the community celebration will be an expression of the true spirit of the holiday, which is meant to be shared with everyone, he said.

“The message of Chanukah is one that is very much universal, and — as recent history has shown us — very relevant today,” Liberow said. “Even now, there are repressive regimes that seek to swallow those who are weaker than them. Even today, hatred for those who are perceived as different persists. Even today, so many people are afraid to show the world who they really are, tempted instead to blend in, to assimilate.”

The lighting over eight nights of Chanukah candles serve to remind people that even when everything appears bleak, hope is never far, he said.

The Rebbe — Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson — who inspired the creation of Chabad in Morgan Hill and the thousands of Chabad centers around the world, wrote that “when it is dark outside, one must not be discouraged, and that is precisely the time to start kindling the lights as the Chanukah candles have to be kindled after sunset,” Liberow said.

“We don’t light these candles when everything is bright and sunny,” he said. “We light them when it is dark. We light them to bring hope to the world, to banish the darkness.”

The Hebrew word Chanukah means “dedication.”

The holiday gets its name because it celebrates the rededication of the Second Temple in Jerusalem during the second century B.C. after a small band of Jewish freedom fighters rose against their Greek-Syrian oppressors in the Maccabean Revolt.