A menorah placed on God's Acre Saturday night, Dec. 8, will give off light into eight of the longest and coldest nights of the year.
"Every night we light the menorah as it's getting dark outside. As we light it, we remember that even a little bit of light is capable of lighting the darkest places," said Rabbi Levi Mendelow, leader of the Chabad House of New Canaan. "(This is true) of winter, but also the dark places of people's lives. Hanukkah reminds us ... to share the light with those who need it, the light of kindness, and light of goodness."
At 6 p.m. on Saturday, clergy from Temple Shalom in Norwalk will sing and recite the Hanukkah prayers for those assembled at God's Acre. Organizer Marty Reiss said normally about 50 to 100 New Canaanites come out for the celebration.
Reisss said he and a small group of people have been doing this for more than 15 years in town, over which time the event has evolved.
"Our first menorah was made of PVC pipe. It was an artist's rendition of a menorah, and over the years it broke and we got donations and bought a nice aluminum one."
In addition to the community menorah lighting, the Chabad House of New Canaan will host a Hanukkah celebration on Monday, Dec. 10, from 5 to 7 p.m. at Art and Soul on 80 Main St. They will serve traditional Hanukkah foods, such as latkes and jelly doughnuts, and have crafts for children.
The historical origin of the holiday comes from the second-century B.C.E. Jewish revolt in the hinterlands of the West Bank of the Jordan River and Dead Sea. At that time, the area was controlled by the massive Seleucid Empire, governed by Antiochus IV. The Seleucid Empire was the Eastern section of the lands conquered by Alexander the Great, which was partitioned among his generals after his death.
Dr. Ian Lustick, an author and professor at the University of Pennsylvania described the event from an academic perspective in his book, "For the Land and the Lord: Jewish Fundamentalism in Israel." According to Lustick, many Jews, especially wealthier ones living in cities, began to adapt to the Greek customs of the empire. A revolt to get back to Judaism was started largely by the Maccabees, and grew.
"Rough-hewn Jews from the hill country, in league with lower- class urban dwellers, took up arms in 166 B.C.E. against rule of the country by the Syrian-Greek (Seleucid) Empire. Despite the apparently overwhelming superior strength of the Syrian-Greeks and their hellenized Jewish allies, the Maccabees were victorious. The war culminated in the formal rededication of the Temple, the inauguration of 200 years of Jewish sovereignty, and unprecedented territorial expansion."
According to Mendelow, when the fighters, led by the famed Judah Maccabee, arrived at the sacred Temple in Jerusalem, which had been converted into a Greek pagan temple by Antiochus IV in his effort to Hellenize his kingdom, there was only enough olive oil to light the menorah for one night. Miraculously, the oil burned for eight nights, by which time more was procured. That miracle is the inception of the "Festival of Lights," as Hanukkah is called, in which a candle is lit and prayers are recited each night for eight nights.
Jewish rule of Jerusalem and the land around it only lasted for about 130 years, when the area fell under the control of Marc Antony and the Roman Empire. In the centuries that followed, Jews were dispersed across the globe, into lands where they were a religious minority.
In this diaspora, Jews were frequently persecuted to varying degrees.
While the other Jewish holidays, like Rosh Hashannah or Yom Kippur, take place within the home or in the synagogue, the outward celebration of Hanukkah, where families typically display the menorah in windows facing the street, was shunned and in many cases not practiced.
"Certainly it hasn't always been the case that the Jewish people have been able to celebrate freely and openly," Mendelow said.
"One of the things that is so great about Hanukkah is that we live in a free country and are able to freely worship what we believe. Here in New Canaan, we as a community are living in this wonderful land of the United States of America."
Though much has happened in time and place between the land of Canaan and that of New Canaan, the ceremonies this week serve to help Jewish people remember the effort and the sacrifice their forebears endured to be able to practice their faith openly.
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