ESTERO — Jews and gentiles alike celebrated Hanukkah at Coconut Point Mall in Estero Monday night by lighting oil lanterns on a large aluminum menorah.
“We came for the children and for us to see them light the menorah,” said Meir Alias, an Israeli who moved to the United States 20 years ago. “When we were over (in Israel,) we didn’t think they did stuff like that here, but they do, and I think it’s great.”
Monday was the fourth day of Hanukkah, or the Jewish festival of lights, which is an eight-day commemoration or rededication of the Holy Temple by the Maccabees after their victory over the Syrian Greeks in the second century B.C.
For the past five years, the Chabad of Bonita Springs has held the menorah lighting ceremony at the Promenade in Bonita Springs, but the need for a larger venue forced them to move the ceremony to the Coconut Point Mall.
“Within each one of us, we have the miracle of Hanukkah,” said Rabbi Mendy Greenberg, director of Chabad of Bonita Springs. “The Greeks were trying to contaminate our oil. We all have oil within us, and that oil is our connection to God.”
Aside from the miracle of the Maccabee’s victory over the Syrians, who were trying to impose a Hellenistic, godless lifestyle on the Jews of Israel, Hanukkah celebrates the day’s-worth of oil that kept the menorah lit for eight days and nights.
When we light our menorahs tonight, “we are lighting that jug of oil within ourselves,” Greenberg said.
Greenberg helped Ronald Toll, provost of Florida Gulf Coast University, light five candles, including the shammash, or the center candle that is used to light the other eight. One new candle on the menorah is lit for each night of Hanukkah, which will be celebrated from Dec. 11 to Dec. 19 this year.
The menorah lighting ceremony “was very nice and beautiful,” said Golan Alice, 10, Alias’ son. “It’s a holiday, and we celebrate it for the miracles that happened on Hanukkah.” According to tradition, everyone sang Maoz Tzor, a traditional Hebrew song, that is usually sung after the lighting of the menorah.
“I’m Jewish and it’s a wonderful event that’s supportive of the community,” said Suzan Eisenberg, of Estero. Eisenberg appreciated that they held the menorah lighting event because it allows Jewish people to participate in holiday festivities.
“I came tonight just to be a part of the Jewish community and to celebrate a wonderful biblical holiday,” said Christina Schnagel, who’s a gentile that came to the event with her Jewish friends. “I think it’s wonderful because it’s an expression of our freedoms that we have in our country, (and) that I think are in a lot ways trying to be taken away from us,” she said of expressing religious freedoms in public.
The festivities included live Jewish music performed by The Mike Eisendat Band and arts and crafts for children, who filled plastic dreidels with colored salt and made menorahs out of chocolate, marshmallows and candy corn, which were the flames of the candles.
“I’ve never seen a big menorah, so it was a really cool experience,” said 10-year-old Julie Hill, who was painting a menorah.
Rabbi Greenberg said that a Kosher Deli in Miami was supposed to cater the event, but the food never arrived because one of the caterers was apparently in the hospital. Donuts and latkes, or fried potato pancakes arrived later as a substitute.
According to the Jewish calendar, which runs on a lunar cycle, Hanukkah begins on the twenty-fifth day of the Jewish month of Kislev. Unlike the Gregorian calendar, which is used by most of the western world, the dates on the Jewish calendar fluctuate from year to year, so the first day of Hanukkah can fall anywhere between Nov. 28 and Dec. 26.
Although the menorah was lit with oil candles on Monday night, they will be replaced with safer light bulbs for the remainder of the week-long celebration of Hanukkah.
E-mail Sarah Donovan at firstname.lastname@example.org.