St. George is given a message of light at first-ever public menorah lighting

ST. GEORGE — If you were driving by or taking a stroll though Town Square Park Sunday evening you probably noticed something special about the display around monument tower. For many in St. George, it was spreading a message of light this holiday season.

Over 200 people gather at St. George Town Square for the first-ever lighting of a public menorah in the city, St. George, Utah, Dec. 9, 2018 | Photo by Sheldon Demke, St. George News

Just before dusk, Mayor Jon Pike joined a couple hundred Southern Utahns for a public menorah lighting ceremony, an event that as far as Pike knew, has never happened before in the city of St. George.

“This is really the last night of Hanukkah,” Pike said after the lighting. “I hope next year we can celebrate first night and all through all eight nights of Hanukkah. But this is a great start.”

Pike said the event was at least a great way to celebrate the end of Hanukkah and this “season of light.”

Hanukkah, or Jewish Festival of Lights, is an eight-day celebration of lights of that eight-day miracle when the Jews, the Maccabees, overcame and regained control of the holy temple. (See Ed. note)

Every year during the celebration a candle is lit for each day of the holiday and placed on the menorah, traditionally a candelabrum of nine candles. The St. George menorah stands at over 12 feet and will be on display on street corners in the city throughout December.

“(The menorah) has great support from people all over the community,” Pike said, adding that everyone, people of any denomination or none at all, had a great time at the lighting with Rabbi Mendy Cohen and his wife and family.

“Great opportunity to be here at Town Square tonight,” Pike said.

Cohen, who moved here with his wife Chaya from Brooklyn, New York, is the rabbi of the Chabad of St. George and Southern Utah. He appeared overwhelmed with joy at the acceptance and support he and his wife found from the area at the event.

Cohen told St. George News that the evening was about “celebrating who we (Jews) are as a people.” He said in the past the Jews have been oppressed and they were not able to practice their religion freely.

“We are practicing our Judaism openly and freely,” he said adding that the idea of getting together and gathering everyone in front of a menorah for a lighting is about showing everyone that they are Jewish – they are proud to be Jewish.

Over 200 people gather at St. George Town Square for the first-ever lighting of a public menorah in the city, St. George, Utah, Dec. 9, 2018 | Photo by Sheldon Demke, St. George News

“No one’s holding us back,” Cohen said.

Joseph Cancilla traveled down from Ogden to perform an exhibition of Samoan fire knife dancing but for last night’s show he mixed in some fire poi, long staff and double short staff for his performance.

“The event was beautiful. A lot of people are coming out and saying, ‘oh I didn’t know there was a Jewish community here, it’s so nice you guys came,’” Cohen said.

Chaya Cohen was thrilled with the turnout and said sometimes when you are starting off a new Jewish community it is hard to get support. She told St. George News that everyone from the city of St. George had been very gracious and they feel very lucky they were able to get immediate help putting the event together.

“It’s incredible to see all the Jews come together to celebrate. This was a very big success for us,” Chaya Cohen said. “It was great to have the kids come up and help light.”

Mendy Cohen said the meaning of Hanukkah is about showing the miracle of the lights that represent goodness and kindness and taking it into our lives.

“It’s very nice to see everyone coming together and people just love to be with the community and that’s what it’s all about,” he said.

St. George News videographer SHELDON DEMKE contributed to this report.

Ed. note: An earlier version of this article misidentified the Maccabees historically.

Click on photo to enlarge it, then use your left-right arrow keys to cycle through the gallery.

Email: apinckney@stgnews.com

Twitter: @STGnews | @andrewjpinckney

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2018, all rights reserved.

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1 Comment

  • stevenxfiles December 10, 2018 at 9:10 pm

    Having lived overseas in middle Eastern countries where it would be suicidal to publicly celebrate Judeo Christian holidays I can honestly appreciate how great it is that people of different faiths can openly celebrate their spiritual beliefs here without the threat of death or harm. Just another great thing about living here in this wonderful part of the world. We should never forget how blessed we are!

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