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Friday, March 1, 2024
March 1, 2024

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Drive-in menorah ceremony lights up decidedly different Hanukkah in Clark County

Jewish festival kicks off as pandemic, rabbi says, presents challenges, offers lessons

By , Columbian county government and small cities reporter
6 Photos
A performer from Circus Luminescence juggles in front of an audience at a drive-in menorah lighting Thursday night in a parking lot across the street from the Clark County Historical Museum.
A performer from Circus Luminescence juggles in front of an audience at a drive-in menorah lighting Thursday night in a parking lot across the street from the Clark County Historical Museum. (Photos by Zach Wilkinson for The Columbian) Photo Gallery

Rabbi Shmulik Greenberg offered an alternative perspective while speaking in a Main Street parking lot full of people, most of whom were huddled in their cars.

Greenberg on Thursday night was leading the Chabad Jewish Center of Clark County’s 18th annual menorah lighting ceremony, which celebrates the first night of Hanukkah. The ceremony typically takes place at Esther Short Park, but this year became a drive-in ceremony in the parking lot across from the Clark County Historical Museum due to COVID-19.

The ceremony, naturally, was different. But, as Greenberg pointed out, it was also a first — the first drive-in menorah lighting in the county’s history.

“This year is a challenging year, but that’s not going to stop us from celebrating, and that’s not going to stop us from celebrating together,” Greenberg said. “This is a lesson for any part of our lives. We are set up in life with many challenges. We need to figure, ‘God gives us a challenge, and he also gives us the ability to overcome that challenge.’ ”

Instead of gathering in the park’s plaza, attendees watched from their cars — or at a distance from other groups.

The ceremony featured a smaller menorah that could be easily removed after the ceremony. The 19-foot stainless steel menorah that made its debut last year is standing at its traditional spot in Esther Short Park, where it will be lit each night of the festival.

After pulling into the lot, owned by Cascadia Development Partners, celebrators received a bag with treats and two plastic, yellow piggy banks in the shape of an ark. They were encouraged to fill the arks with money and give them to people in need as part of the ARK (Acts of Random Kindness) Clark County project.

Parking attendants guided vehicles toward spots, ensuring that the occupants had good views of the menorah and the large pop-up screen. Greenberg offered some opening remarks before the screen displayed cartoon presentations on the history of Hanukkah, a “dancing” dreidels (four-sided spinning tops) number and a three-in-one hidden objects game featuring gelt (currency often given to children during the festival).

Then, following speeches from Greenberg and Vancouver Mayor Anne McEnerny-Ogle, the duo lit the menorah.

Hanukkah is an eight-night festival that marks the victory of the Jewish Maccabees over the Greek-Syrian Seleucid Empire in the second century B.C. The empire, as the traditional story goes, conquered Israel, outlawed Judaism and ordered that a statue of Zeus be built at the temple of Jerusalem.

The Maccabees drove the Seleucids from Israel, and the Jews rededicated the temple. But they only had enough ritual oil to burn at the menorah for one night.

The oil, however, lasted eight days, a miracle that inspired the annual festival.

On each night, Jewish households light a candle on the eight-stemmed menorah, symbolizing the victory of light over darkness. A ninth candle called the shamash, or “helper,” lights other candles or serves as an additional beacon.

The tradition is often accompanied by special blessings, songs and games.

Elana Kier of Felida attended the ceremony for the third consecutive year with her husband, daughter and son.

The family knew many of the other people in the lot Thursday night. Kier said she actually enjoyed being able to watch from the warmth of her car.

“It’s different, but they put on such great events,” Kier said. “It’s a good alternative.”

Jon Ferguson, Diana Berkowitz, their 4-year-old son, North Ferguson Berkowitz, and dog, Io, walked toward the front for a better view.

“It was, just, really such a blessing to have it as much as we could,” Berkowitz said.

Greenberg also instructed those in attendance to adopt an alternate usage for a term uttered often this year: “Tonight, I wish for all of us to be super-spreaders of goodness and kindness.”

Columbian county government and small cities reporter