‘To dispel darkness’: Menorah lighting in St. George kicks off Hanukkah celebration

ST. GEORGEHundreds gathered in downtown St. George on Sunday evening to see the lighting of a menorah and celebrate the beginning of Hanukkah – the Festival of Lights.

Attendees danced and sang during the celebratory event in Town Square Park, St. George, Utah, Nov. 28, 2021 | Photo by Ammon Teare, St. George News

Organized by Chabad Jewish Center and led by Rabbi Mendy Cohen, the annual holiday event in Town Square Park began in 2018. He said he was excited to see members of the community from all faiths and backgrounds unite to celebrate unity and religious freedom.

“I feel that this year’s turnout was so beautiful,” Cohen said. “The first year we had about 150 (attendees). The next year we had about 350, and every year we’re growing more and more. It’s beautiful to see how everybody just wants to come out and celebrate together. We’re very honored that we have the support of the community in showing diversity in this beautiful city.”

Cohen invited St. George Mayor Michelle Randall to share her thoughts and to help light the 12-foot aluminum menorah that served as a centerpiece for the occasion. Randall expressed her love for the Jewish community and said she wished them all many blessings and peace.

Other community leaders were in attendance at the event, including the Washington City, Ivins and Santa Clara mayors. Cohen’s wife, Chaya Cohen, shared the origin of Hanukkah to the assembled crowd and the rabbi led the attendees in traditional songs.

Rabbi Mendy Cohen and St. George Mayor Michelle Randall light the central branch of a 12-foot menorah in downtown St. George, Utah, Nov. 28, 2021 | Photo by Ammon Teare, St. George News

Hanukkah is the celebration of the recovery of Jerusalem and subsequent rededication of the Second Temple around 164 BCE. After the Maccabean Revolt, the recaptured temple was found to have only one jar of undefiled oil remaining – enough to burn for one day.

According to tradition, the limited oil miraculously lasted for eight days. Modern celebrations honor this event by lighting a candelabrum with eight or nine branches – one for each day and a ninth central branch for lighting the rest.

“Hanukkah is a festival where we take light and we counter the world’s darkness,” said Chaim Hirschowitz, who helped organize the menorah lighting. “The Jewish nation has suffered many things, and the whole miracle of Hanukkah is how the Jewish nation has flourished and keeps on existing until today, as seen by the menorah right here in St. George.”

Hirschowitz contributed to the outreach before and during Sunday’s event. At the evening celebration, he moved throughout the crowd in a blue dreidel costume, handed out song sheets to attendees and invited guests to join the dancing.

“Donuts, latkes, family, menorah, singing and dancing – it’s a beautiful time,” he said. “The whole festival is to publicize the miracle of the Jewish nation. In addition to celebrating it in your own homes, you should bring it out into the streets and the town square so everyone can enjoy it.”

In keeping with that spirit, the menorah lighting was open to all members of the public, and attendees were served traditional holiday fare. The St. George Fire Department threw candy gelt – chocolate coins often given in conjunction with the game of dreidel – to the assembled crowd near the end of the ceremony.

Guests at the Hanukkah celebration hold candles as part of the “Festival of Lights,” St. George, Utah, Nov. 28, 2021 | Photo by Ammon Teare, St. George News

St. George’s menorah is one of more than 15,000 large public menorahs sponsored by the Chabad Hasidic movement. Throughout the state of Utah, Chabad will be presenting dozens of Hanukkah celebrations and events. To find local events or learn more about the holiday, visit the international event directory.

More than a satisfied appetite and an appreciation for Jewish culture, Cohen said he hoped those in attendance would act on the message of Hanukkah and take advantage of opportunities to help others.

“That message is a light in the darkness which brings goodness, kindness and religious freedom,” he said. “We have to be proud of who we are and use goodness and kindness to dispel darkness. Just by doing one more good deed, you can make this world a better place.”

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Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2021, all rights reserved.

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