Public welcome Dec. 10 to celebrate at Amphitheater

By Marty Cheek

As the season of lights approaches, many South Valley Jewish residents prepare to celebrate with faith and festivity the eight days and nights of Chanukah.

This year’s Chanukah starts at sundown Dec. 7 to commemorate the themes of miracle, determination, and liberty. The lighting of the menorah is a key tradition of the religious holiday.

Chabad South County Jewish Center invites local residents to participate in a community celebration held at the Downtown Amphitheater from 4 p.m. to 5:30 p.m., Sunday, Dec. 10.

The free festivities include a grand menorah lighting with live music and greetings from local dignitaries. There will be spectacular fire performance, children’s crafts, giant inflatables, balloon twisting, free swag and prizes.

Doughnuts and latkes, traditional Chanukah foods, will be available for free. Attendees will also find a mini pop-up boutique, with the opportunity to buy for friends and family members unique holiday-themed gifts such as cards, toys and Judaica.

“We are hosting this public Chanukah celebration for all because the story of the Chanukah miracles is one that everyone should hear,” said Rabbi Mendel Liberow, director of the Jewish Center. “It reminds each and every one of us that despite the odds we may face, we must stand for what is right and just in this world, and we, too, can experience miracles.”

The message of the menorah’s lights is the celebration of the freedom of religion, the triumph of light over darkness, hope over despair, and good over evil, he said.

“The menorah is lit specifically during the nighttime, when it is dark, because it is when it is darkest that light is needed most,” he said. “We may feel that we are living through dark times; we may find it difficult to see how we can make a difference. But Chanukah reminds us that even a small light can chase away much darkness. And the light doesn’t chase away the darkness with force. It simply shines forth, and the darkness disappears.”

One of the founding principles of America, religious freedom, is a major theme of Chanukah, said Rabbi Faith Joy Dantowitz of Congregation Emeth.

In the second century before the common era, Jews were under persecution and unable to practice their religion freely.

“Sadly, this is a serious concern for Jews across America,” she said. “Today, Jewish organizations face security concerns and Jewish college students have faced increased antisemitism in and out of their classrooms. Jewish homes and businesses have been vandalized around the world. Jewish elected officials have also been targeted.

Jews are commanded to stand up for the stranger, to help those in need. And, they are proud to engage regularly in the work of “Tikkun Olam,” repairing the world, she said. This year, Jews want the South Valley community to know the challenging time they face.

“The Chanukah menorah has nine lights on it,”  Dantowitz said. “One, the shammash, is the helper candle to light each of the other candles. We are in need of others to join us in becoming our community’s shammash, spreading light through the darkness.”

Chanukah commemorates the rededication of the Second Temple in Jerusalem in the second century before the common era after the Maccabees rebelled against the Seleucid Empire.

When the Maccabees reclaimed the Temple, they only found one day’s worth of untainted olive oil to light the menorah. However, the oil miraculously lasted for eight days until more oil could be produced.

Chanukah is a minor holiday in terms of religious observances, but it has become important in Jewish cultural identity. The festival reminds Jews to cherish the fight for their faith and liberties.

The miracle of the oil is a story of perseverance, Dantowitz said, explaining the importance of the Chanukah . Knowing there was not enough oil, the Jewish people carried the strength of spirit to light the first light, not knowing if it would last long enough for more pure oil to arrive in time.

The custom of lighting an additional candle each night until the eighth night when the whole Chanukah menorah is lit by family and friends, symbolizes the desire to increase light and justice in the world, she said.

“It is a message of hope and resilience,” she said. “This theme of light amidst darkness resonates deeply today. The past couple of months have been a dark time for Israel and Jews around the world.”