Bristol park set to host menorah for the first time
BRISTOL — This year, as the northern hemisphere’s darkest days of the year coincide with a number of annual community and religious celebrations, a new bringer of light will be established for eight nights in downtown Bristol.
Last week the Bristol selectboard approved a permit allowing Rabbi Binyamin Murray, co-director of Chabad Middlebury, to install on the town green a nine-foot-tall menorah to celebrate Chanukah, the Jewish “Festival of Lights,” which takes place this year on Dec. 2–10. Park rules prohibit open flames, so the nine-branch candelabra will feature light bulbs and plug into the park’s power source.
“The Chanukah menorah serves as a symbol of our ability to preserve and encourage the right and liberty of all citizens to worship G-d freely, openly, and with pride,” Murray told the Independent in an email. “This is true especially in the United States, a country that was founded upon and vigorously protects the right of every person to practice his or her religion free from restraint and persecution.”
The public menorah may be a first for Bristol — at least on the town green. Selectboard members Peter Coffey and Ted Lylis said they couldn’t recall a precedent in the last 40-plus years.
Chabad-Lubavitch plans to install the menorah a few days before Chanukah begins. A lighting celebration, open to the public, will take place on the festival’s third night, Tues., Dec. 4, and will include hot coco, cider, latkes (potato pancakes) and doughnuts. Chabad-Lubavitch has organized similar displays in Middlebury, Castleton and Montpelier for this year, and hopes to add more sites in the future, Murray said.
This year, the darkness into which the festival is meant to spread light feels particularly heavy. Just a month ago, on Oct. 27, during Shabbat morning services at a Pittsburgh synagogue, a white man shot and killed 11 people, and injured seven more. It was the deadliest attack ever on the Jewish community in the United States. The suspect is being prosecuted for hate crimes.
“In this worldwide campaign to add more light, we think about them,” Murray said of the victims. “As we go forward we will carry their memory with us.”
Chanukah, which means “dedication” or “induction,” celebrates two miracles: the second-century BCE victory of a small army of Jews, known as the “Maccabees,” over the larger and better armed Greek army that occupied the Holy Land; and the eight days of light produced by a single day’s supply of oil in a temple the Maccabees liberated from the Greeks.
The festival begins on the 25th day of the Jewish month of Kislev, which on the Gregorian calendar can fall anywhere between Nov. 28 and Dec. 26.
Each day, one more branch of the menorah is lit until all eight shine through the night, alongside the ninth — the “shamesh” or “attendant” light, from which all the others are lit.
Integral to the celebration’s meaning is the notion of increase without diminishment.
“The nature of light is such that one candle can light up many candles, and no matter how many candles the one candle lights, its own brightness is never diminished,” said Murray. “We can brighten up the lives of those around us, and it will never diminish our own brightness. On the contrary, it will make our own lives shine ever more brightly, and ever more meaningfully.”
To commemorate the miracles of Chanukah it is traditional to eat foods fried in oil, such as latkes and doughnuts, as well as dairy foods.
It’s also customary for children to play dreidel games.
A four-sided spinning top, the dreidel, is embossed with Hebrew letters that together form the acronym of the phrase “Nes gadol haya sham” (“A great miracle happened there.”) During the Syrian-Greek rule that set off the Maccabean revolt, learning the Torah (the first five books of the Hebrew scriptures) was forbidden, punishable by death. Fearing for their lives, Jewish children hid in caves in order to study. If encountered by the authorities, the children would pull out their tops and pretend to be playing a game. During Chanukah, playing dreidel games is meant to recall the courage of those children.
Other festival customs include gift-giving and increased charity.
A 250-year-old Orthodox Jewish movement, Chabad-Lubavitch is one of the largest and best-known Hasidic groups in the world. According to its website the word “Chabad” is a Hebrew acronym for the three intellectual faculties of wisdom, comprehension and knowledge, and Lubavitch is the name of the Russian town where the movement was based for more than a century.
Rabbi Murray and his wife, Davida, who co-direct Chabad-Lubavitch in Middlebury, are one of 13 couples who established new Chabad centers on or near college campuses in the United States last year.
“(The Murrays) hope to bring joyful Jewish experiences to campus, whether it’s through Torah classes, cooking for Shabbat, making challah or performing acts of kindness,” wrote Karen Schwartz at Chabbad.org.
In addition to the roughly 350 Jewish students at Middlebury College, the Murrays’ focus includes Jewish households throughout Addison County.
Worldwide, Chabad-Lubavitch installs thousands of large public menorahs and hosts public lightings and other Chanukah events in nearly 100 countries.
“The nature of light is that it is always victorious over darkness,” Murray said. “A small amount of light dispels a lot of darkness. This gives us a great deal of hope and a great deal of confidence, it offers us the certainty that goodness and kindness will ultimately prevail over darkness and falsehood.”
For more information about local Chabad-Lubavitch events, visit middleburychabad.org.
Reach Christopher Ross at [email protected].