update deskJewish & Israeli Holidays

Chanukah events planned nationally, some menorah-lighting cancellations

From giant ice menorahs to the history of whale oil to ugly sweater contests.

Chanukah menorah. Credit: tomertu/Shutterstock
Chanukah menorah. Credit: tomertu/Shutterstock

Dennis House, chief political anchor at WTNH-TV, News 8, the ABC affiliate of Hartford and New Haven, Conn., began a recent interview with Rabbi Shaya Gopin of the Chabad of Greater Hartford, saying that a Chanukah celebration scheduled for Dec. 10 would be among the nation’s largest. “Connecticut to host one of the country’s biggest Hanukkah celebrations,” read the headline of House’s article.

But when House wrapped up the interview with Gopin and said it would be “one of the biggest, really, in the nation,” the rabbi tempered, “in the state, for sure.” “I mean, it’s definitely the state’s biggest,” said House with a smile, “and biggest in New England.”

Whether the Nutmeg State’s “Fire on Ice” event—slated to take place in a lot at the West Hartford Town Hall, will be one of the nation’s largest may be subject to interpretation. Last year’s iteration reportedly drew an estimated 2,000. Still, Gopin told House that “this year, more than ever, there’s a need for us to come together, stand together and to be proud. Not to be intimidated and to show solidarity and unity.”

The celebration is scheduled to include a live carving of an eight-foot-tall ice menorah, a band, food, a train ride, arts-and-crafts, a photo booth, a “dreidel man” mascot and an art contest, according to an announcement of the event.

Ice-skating Chanukah celebrations are also slated for Central Park in Manhattan, Contra Costa (California), Voorhees Township (New Jersey), Greenville (South Carolina), Rochester (Michigan), Westmount (Canada) and Centennial (Colorado), among many other places. Elsewhere, celebrations on tap don’t necessarily promise to pair the festival of lights with its frigid opposite, but other events promise their own take on the holiday.

The Contemporary Jewish Museum in San Francisco is hosting a take-home “ArtBash” project, which it describes as “a guided art project designed to illuminate and share each of our inner light for Chanukah.”

The Whaling Museum and Education Center in Cold Spring Harbor, N.Y., held a Dec. 3 “menorah workshop” that promised to “explore the importance of oil through the ages, from whale oil to olive oil,” including comparing “historic oil lanterns in the museum’s collection” and designing tiled mosaic menorahs to take home.

The Federation and JCCs in Tampa, Fla., plan to host a dreidel tournament, Chanukah bingo and an ugly holiday-sweater contest.

In the Dallas area, there will be a “big pink menorah” lighting and a Chanukah gelt drop from a fire-engine ladder. In Phoenix, Chanukah celebrators can plan to have “brisket tacos” and “Brooklyn beer from New York City,” in addition to their jelly doughnuts and latkes. In Petaluma, Calif., attendees are promised a gelt drop from a helicopter and the “world’s biggest dreidel.”

In St. Louis, a Chabad teamed up with a Home Depot for a Dec. 3 event with “music, hot latkes and the opportunity to build your own menorah.”

‘A short-sighted and hurtful decision’

At some venues, Chanukah celebrations have been canceled in light of Israel’s war with Hamas, such as a Dec. 10 menorah-lighting at the 2nd Sundays Art and Music Festival in Williamsburg, Va. Festival founder Shirley Vermillion said the event is “inclusive to different religions or cultures, and the menorah-lighting ‘seemed very inappropriate’ given current events in Israel and Gaza,” the Virginia Gazette reported.

“She said the board would prefer to steer clear of religious affiliations. In the past, she said, Christian and other religious groups ask to perform at 2nd Sundays, and all of those requests were denied,” the paper added, quoting Vermillion, “The concern is of folks feeling like we are siding with a group over the other … not a direction we ever decide to head.”

The United Jewish Community of the Virginia Peninsula said in a Dec. 3 statement that it is “shocked and alarmed” by the cancellation.

“To be clear, the menorah-lighting, which was to be led by a local community rabbi, had nothing to do with Israel or the conflict,” the group stated. “Yet, appallingly, the event organizer claimed that a Chanukah celebration would send a message that the festival was ‘supporting the killing/bombing of thousands of men, women and children’—and even went a step further, by offering to reinstate the event if it was done under a banner calling for a ceasefire.”

“It is antisemitic to hold Jews collectively responsible for Israel’s policies and actions, and to require a political litmus test for Jews’ participation in community events that have nothing to do with Israel,” the group said. “Those standards would never be applied to another community.”

The American Jewish Committee said that it is “appalled” by the festival’s decision, in a statement that it provided to JNS.

“The explanation that by lighting the menorah, an enduring symbol of Jewish resilience and triumph over adversity, would be effectively taking a side in the Israel-Hamas war is both specious and holds Jews to a different standard than other communities,” the AJC said.

“Excluding Jewish participation from an event meant to promote unity does the exact opposite,” the organization added. “Holding Jews collectively responsible for Israel’s response in the war or at any other time is a form of antisemitism. We strongly urge the festival’s organizers to reconsider this short-sighted and hurtful decision.”

Chanukah Car Menorah
Chanukah car menorah. Photo by Carin M. Smilk.

‘As far as religion is concerned … ’

Moncton City Hall in New Brunswick, Canada, won’t have a menorah for the first time in 20 years, the CBC reported. The city’s mayor reportedly said that “city hall should be neutral as far as religion is concerned.”

Francis Weil, president of the city’s Jewish community, said Moncton’s Jews are hurt. Some of the latter also noted that city hall displays a Christmas tree.

A council in London reversed its recent decision to cancel a Chanukah lighting, which it said could “inflame tensions.”

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