Last Thursday evening the City of Santa Clara saw its first-ever public Chanukah Menorah lighting, drawing a crowd of all ages from young families with babies to senior citizens. To honor the Santa Clara Police Department, Assistant Police Chief Dan Winters was invited to light the top lamp.
Sponsored by Chabad of Santa Clara and Whole Foods Market, there were traditional sufganiyot (donuts) and latkes (potato pancakes), face painting and dreidels (tops) for kids, live music, singing and even a breathtaking fire-juggling performance by the nimble Rabbi Yigal Rosenberg – who says that he wasn’t in full form as a performer due to a broken leg.
The celebration drew people from across the South Bay, many who are newcomers to the Bay Area as well as longtime residents. Guy and Renat Zyskind moved to Santa Clara from Boston two months ago. “We’re so glad we found the Rosenbergs and the community here,” said Renat. “I was amazed to find so many people here tonight.”
Maya Brodetzai echoed that sentiment. “It’s nice to have this welcoming place.”
Yazliach Nicholas, who came from Milpitas to join the celebration, said, “We could feel the mitzvah [loving-kindness].”
“It’s a great turnout,” said Whole Foods Manager Ann Greenwald, who noted Whole Food’s extensive selection of kosher foods, including kosher beer and wine – with tasting flights available in the Whole Foods café. “We plan to do this every year. This is what community is all about.”
Chanukah celebrates a story of victory of Jewish rebels, the Maccabees, over the oppressive Syrian-Greek king Antiochus in 165 BCE.
After driving Antiochus’ army out of Jerusalem, the Maccabees returned to the temple to rededicate it and relight the eight-branched temple candelabra, the Menorah. However, there was only enough oil to burn the Menorah for just a single day. Miraculously, the Menorah’s light burned for eight days. The next year Chanukah was instituted as an eight-day festival.
One lamp or candle of the Menorah is lit each night of the celebration. Traditionally, the Menorah is placed where it can be seen publically (for example, in a window) and its lighting is followed by celebration, games and eatable treats.
The Menorah is often describing as a symbol of religious freedom and victory over persecution. “Specifically, in America, a nation that was founded upon and vigorously protects the right of every person to practice his or her religion free from restraint and persecution,” said Rabbi Rosenberg, “the Menorah takes on profound significance, embodying both religious and constitutional principals.”
“I’m thrilled to see a Jewish presence in Santa Clara,” said Santa Clara Unified Trustee Jodi Muirhead.
Less than a year old, Chabad of Santa Clara (www.chabadsclara.com) is led by Rabbi Rosenberg and his wife Rebbitzin Elana Rosenberg – who personally made the potato latkes that were served that evening, as well as playing the violin and generally managing the event.
Chabad is a school of religious thought and practice within Hasidic Orthodox Judaism and its name comes from the Hebrew words for wisdom, understanding, and knowledge.
Hasidism – “piety” – grew from an 18th century Jewish grassroots religious revival in Eastern Europe that stressed mystical and inner spiritual experience, the immanence of the divine in all of life, and joyful sand expressive worship.
Chabad is distinctive among Hasidic groups – which as a rule absolutely reject and separate themselves from all secular culture – for its welcoming outreach to all Jews, community engagement, focus on education and its elevation of women to leadership and ceremonial positions. Each Chabad house is co-headed by an ambassador family, a Rabbi and Rebbitzin.
Chabad’s progressivism and outward-facing spirit has its roots the teachings of the charismatic Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson (1902–1994), affectionately called the Rebbe, who instituted the first public menorah lightings in the 1970s. Chabad’s headquarters is in the Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York.
In the 1950s, the Rebbe began the work that made Chabad the world’s most visible and widespread Jewish movement building a worldwide network of 3,500 Chabad “houses” that provide a religious home to unaffiliated and non-observant Jews with Shabbat celebrations, Torah study and other kinds of community groups.
Chabad also provides non-sectarian social services including drug rehab centers and soup kitchens. Members of Chabad congregations and communities aren’t required to convert to Orthodox Judaism.