By Kaitlin Candelaria
The Summit and the Levite Jewish Community Center are partnering to host the first public menorah lighting in Birmingham.
The lighting will take place on Dec. 6 by Saks Fifth Avenue.
The menorah lighting is a key part of launching the Hanukkah holiday in Jewish culture. Hanukkah, which also is known as the festival of lights, commemorates the victory of the ancient Israelites over the Syrian Greek army.
The historical holiday is celebrated by lighting the menorah for eight nights. According to Jewish culture, when their ancestors were repairing the Holy Temple during the battle, they had enough oil to burn for only one night. But through divine intervention, the oil lasted for eight nights, allowing them enough light to complete their tasks.
“There are two symbols called the menorah,” said Betzy Lynch, executive director of the LJCC. “There’s a seven branch menorah that is a symbol of the state of Israel and then there is a hanukiah, which is designed for the holiday and has nine branches instead of seven. Eight of the branches represent the eight nights the oil burned and the ninth candle, or the Shamash, is used to light the other candles.”
Lynch said public menorah lighting is important not only for Birmingham’s Jewish community, but for the community as a whole.
“It’s important because any time we can share a positive Jewish experience is good,” she said. “For the most part, Birmingham is a religious community and all Judeo-Christian religions have roots in the Old Testament. Understanding Jewish tradition and the way that people respect it in turn feeds their own respect and integrity of their own beliefs.”
She said it’s also important in light of many events going on in the world today.
“Unfortunately, given the world climate, a positive Jewish experience and seeing Jewish life in a positive way is important,” she said. “Jews all over Europe and Jews in the United States are having a difficult time in terms of anti-semitism. The more we can do to educate people and help them feel comfortable with what Jewish life is about, the stronger our relationships become with the broader community and this is the perfect opportunity for us to be a part of this amazing holiday season.”
During the lighting ceremony, the 12-foot menorah will be backlit with boxes inscribed with information about Hanukkah and the Jewish culture.
Birmingham Mayor William Bell will be on hand to light the Shamash. In addition, families can enjoy a small village with traditional Hanukkah foods such as potato latkes and doughnuts, hot chocolate and Hanukkah music and videos. Barnes and Noble will sponsor a small gift village and have books and educational materials on hand about Hanukkah. Families will receive hanukiah candles and traditional prayers for the holiday. In addition, “The Dreidel Man” will be on site for photos. Dreidel is a traditional game played during Hanukkah.
“The stores and the vendors have all been so willing to help make the ambiance what we want it to be and I’m so thankful they’ve all bought into it this way,” Lynch said.