Hanukkah, the Jewish Festival of Lights that begins at sundown on Dec. 18, is about bringing a glow into the darkness.
In the literal sense, candlelight brightens the long, dark, December nights. For Rabbi Yossi Lipsker, regional directorof Chabad of the North Shore, Hanukkah is also symbolic as “The light illuminates the positives in a time of particular darkness marked by bigotry and hatred.”
The Anti-Defamation League New England, a civil rights agency, recorded a total of 108 antisemitic incidents in Massachusetts last year, a 48 percent increase from 2020. Vandalism incidents increased by 66 percent.
“Our work tends to focus on the increasing number of incidents of antisemitism in New England and the lasting harm these incidents inflict on a community,” said Peggy Shukur, interim ADL New England deputy regional director. “The holiday of Hanukkah is a much-needed reminder to take pride in expressing our religion openly and without fear as we reflect on and celebrate the strength and resilience of the Jewish community.”
Rabbi Fred Benjamin of Congregation Beth Shalom of the Blue Hills in Milton stressed that Hanukkah is “about religious freedom and overcoming oppression.”
Hanukkah brings Jewish people together to share the light of the menorah candles in remembrance of a miracle more than 1,800 years ago when a group of Jews, despite being outnumbered, defeated a Greek army and reclaimed the temple in Jerusalem. There was only enough purified oil to relight the temple’s menorah for one night, but it lasted for eight nights — thus the miracle.
“The mitzvah [a good deed done from religious duty] of Hanukkah is to put the celebration out into the world,” explained Benjamin. “Traditionally, you put the menorah in the front window of your house facing the street. It is an expression of religious freedom,” said Benjamin, who will preside over the celebration in the community during the city’s annual public menorah lighting at 5 p.m. Dec. 18 on the Hancock Adams Common in Quincy.
The menorah lighting is such a longstanding tradition that Quincy Mayor Thomas Koch can’t even remember when it began. Donated years ago, the electric menorah is set up annually by the Department of Public Works.
“We have been lighting a menorah on the Common for at least the 15 years since I have been in office,” said Koch. “Quincy is a very diverse community and the menorah lighting is just one part of the many events we celebrate during the holiday season. It is important to recognize the holiday season with our Jewish residents.”
Koch expects no antisemitic incidents related to the Quincy menorah lightning, but his office does work with the police department to prepare for public safety during such events.
“Unfortunately, every public event — from our holiday tree and menorah lighting to the Christmas parade — requires preplanning, including restricting parking and setting up road barriers,” said Koch.
Focused on the importance of sharing the holiday with others, Rabbi Jodi Seewald Smith, director of congregational engagement at Temple Isaiah in Lexington, invites everyone to attend its Hanukkah 2022 Hygge Festival Dec 18 from 3:30 to 5:30 p.m. It will include outdoor lights and projections, fire pits, s’mores, and Hanukkah music. The festival celebrates the holiday and also “life’s simple pleasures, friends, family, graciousness” according to the temple’s website, templeisaiah.net.
“We actually debated whether to keep the event within the congregation or did we want to be open and welcoming,” said Seewald Smith. “We decided to be welcoming and extended the invitation to anyone that wants to come. Participants are encouraged to bring a [menorah] and candles.”
Balancing openness and safety, Temple Isaiah has had security in place for events for several years, according to Seewald Smith.
“It is just a standard precaution. We have full and robust programming and we decided we are not stopping because of worry about external factors,” she said. “Even with antisemitism, we live in a country that protects our religious freedoms. The Hanukkah festival is very much a multigenerational event and we are expecting hundreds of people.”
The Chabad of the North Shore, which serves 22 communities, is coordinating community menorah lightings in a dozen cities and towns from Everett and Revere to Swampscott and Salem. The Chabad owns, stores, loans, and delivers the large electric menorahs to participating municipalities and shopping centers.
Public Hanukkah menorah lightings are important to Lipsker, the Chabad’s rabbi, as “they showcase the beautiful diversity of religious views, faiths, and traditions. Standing shoulder to shoulder, the public celebration shows us at our best.”
One of Lipsker’s favorite events is the menorah lighting at the Northshore Mall in Peabody, which will be held from 4:30 to 5:30 p.m. Dec. 21.
“It was the first public menorah lighting we ever did 30 years ago,” said Lipsker. “It is important to share the universal symbol of light and Jewish pride among the cultural holiday decorations at the mall.”
Despite Lipsker’s positive attitude, the ADL reports that over the past few years, there has been vandalism to outdoor menorahs. A large menorah was vandalized and stolen from a Brookline temple in 2018.
In Quincy, Rabbi Benjamin will share “songs and a few surprises which might include chocolate gelt [coins] and dreidels [spinning tops]” with the families that attend the outdoor menorah lighting.
“The celebration of light is a celebration of the diversity of views, faiths, and traditions,” he said. “Every menorah lighting is a little slice of utopia.”
Linda Greenstein can be reached at email@example.com.