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News / Clark County News

Vancouver lighting ceremony celebrates start of Hanukkah

Festival of Lights brighter with new menorah

By Jack Heffernan, Columbian county government and small cities reporter
Published: December 22, 2019, 8:17pm
6 Photos
Rabbi Shmulik Greenberg lights a menorah to mark the first night of Hanukkah at Esther Short Park.
Rabbi Shmulik Greenberg lights a menorah to mark the first night of Hanukkah at Esther Short Park. (Elayna Yussen for The Columbian) Photo Gallery

In its 17th year, the annual ceremony beneath Esther Short Park’s clock tower marking the first night of Hanukkah featured a larger, shinier menorah.

The 19-foot-tall stainless steel menorah made its debut Sunday night during the Chabad Jewish Center’s annual menorah-lighting ceremony. The menorah’s nautical look resembles some of the new designs at The Waterfront Vancouver.

“If there’s something exciting in town, we want Judaism to be exciting too,” Rabbi Shmulik Greenberg said. “This is an up-and-coming place to be.”

The menorah weighs hundreds of pounds and took several weeks to create, Portland designer Web Wilson said. Wilson said he was afforded creative license by Greenberg to take a nontraditional approach.

A large crowd gathered around the menorah for the ceremony, which also featured live music, refreshments and a fire performer. At the end of the ceremony, from the cherry picker the rabbi used to light the menorah, Greenberg dumped a bucket of candy coins for children to collect.

The crowd, many of whom had seen the event before, came despite rain showers throughout the night. Adding to the menorah’s nautical feel, rain drops could be seen dripping down its steel poles.

At its base was a summary of the reason for Hanukkah, an eight-night festival marking the victory of the Jewish Maccabees over the Greek-Syrian Seleucid Empire in the second century B.C. In the traditional story, the empire had conquered Israel, outlawed Judaism and ordered a statue of Zeus to be built at the temple of Jerusalem.

After the Maccabees drove the Seleucids from Israel, the Jews rededicated the temple but only had enough ritual oil to burn at the menorah for one night. Miraculously, the oil lasted for eight days, inspiring the annual festival.

Jewish households light a candle on the eight-stemmed menorah each night of the holiday, a tradition often accompanied by special blessings, songs and games. A ninth candle called the shamash, or “helper,” lights other candles or serves as an additional beacon.

“When we help others, our hearts and minds become more strong and we can accomplish many more things,” Greenberg said to the crowd.

Vancouver Mayor Anne McEnerny-Ogle, City Councilor Laurie Lebowsky and Clark County Councilor Gary Medvigy also spoke. McEnerny-Ogle wrote a poem that she read aloud.

“As you gather here tonight, inspired by the radiant light,” the poem read, “may your hearts be full with love, shining full as the moon above.”

The new menorah will remain at the park during the eight-day festival. Afterward, it will be stored and used again for future lightings, Greenberg said.

At the base and under the brief history of Hanukkah reads one final message: “The Menorah’s lights shine their eternal message, that goodness will overpower evil and light will conquer darkness.”

Columbian county government and small cities reporter