Lighting of menorah at legislature kicks off Hanukkah celebrations
Published Monday, December 3, 2018 9:31AM PST Last Updated Monday, December 3, 2018 1:24PM PST
A single candle, in a very large menorah which towered over the crowd, was lit on the steps of the B.C. Legislature this weekend, helping launch Hanukkah celebrations on Vancouver Island.
While the gathering was accompanied by the usual music, laughter and traditional jelly doughnuts, this year sharing the holiday with the rest of the community is particularly important.
Rabbi Meir Kaplan, with Chabad of Vancouver Island, explained Hanukkah is about the victory of light over darkness.
He added that in the wake of the deadly attack on a Pittsburgh synagogue, just over a month ago, it has never been more important to stand together, to show unity and emphasize dark will not win over light.
“So having this lighting by the legislature with the participation of our community and the general community and residents of Victoria is sending a message that we will continue bringing light to the world,” said Kaplan.
Down the road, at Congregation Emanu-el, Rabbi Harry Brechner lit a small, kid friendly menorah. Each branch with a cartoon-like animal head.
Brechner also emphasized the themes of light over darkness, as well as freedom of religion and liberty.
There is a long history behind Hanukkah, involving a Jewish uprising against an oppressive regime, then a miracle in which a tiny bit of oil, somehow, kept a candle burning bright for eight days.
Just like so many other holidays, Hanukkah also involves fun and food.
“It’s about lighting a holiday menorah, coming together as family, coming together as community, having a sense of pride and celebration,” said Brechner, careful to add on what some may consider to be the best part.
“Because of the miracle of the oil, we eat a lot of oily foods which taste great. It’s a lot of fried foods. It’s eight days of serious fried foods and a lot of parties,” he laughed.
Hanukkah isn’t actually one of the most significant Jewish holidays, it has achieved greater prominence, in part, because it falls close to Christmas.
Brechner sees the juxtaposition, and increased excitement around Hanukkah, as a good thing.
"Especially living in a place like Victoria where most Jewish kids in particular are really profound minorities. You might be the only Jewish kid in your class, or one or two in your whole grade. Having this other place to connect with your identity and do it in a way that has a sense of pride and celebration is really important," he said.
"I think that as a non-Christian navigating the general culture and the dominance of Santa Claus and Christmas, having Hanukkah kind of keeps you grounded, right? It gives you a sense of 'Okay, I've got something else.'"
For non-Christian children, Christmas can be overwhelming.
“It’s the one time I remember, even as a small kid myself, thinking ‘I’m really different’,” Brechner added.
A thought which took him right back to the heart and spirit of Hanukkah.
“Having a place where you can come together as a group and as families and celebrate Hanukkah, and celebrate the fact that ‘Yeah, I'm different and it's okay. That really does speak a lot to the holiday in terms of religious freedom."