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Be the light
Chanukah 1
Rabbi Shalom Bochner lights the menorah on the fourth night of Chanukah at a public event held in Turlock’s Central Park on Wednesday (KRISTINA HACKER/The Journal).

Chanukah may be the “simplest” holiday, according to Congregation Beth Shalom Rabbi Shalom Bochner, but the message is profound and one needed in these times of darkness.

“Chanukah is not the most important Jewish holiday, but it does have a very important distinction. It is the easiest Jewish holiday. How so? The essence of the holiday is simply to add more light. It’s that simple,” said Bochner before the menorah lighting event held Wednesday at Turlock’s Central Park.

“And we are not only on the longest night of the year, we are heading into the darkest night of the year…It’s not only the darkness of this time of year, I think we’d all agree there’s some dark moments in history going on right now And I’m not only referring to why Zelenskyy is here from Ukraine and the horrible situation that’s unfolding and continues to unfold in Ukraine. But people are trying to stand up for their freedom in Iran. People are trying to stand up for their rights in China. People are trying to stand up for their freedoms even here. And the response, which brings us back to Chanukah? Add more light.”

Chanukah, also known as the Festival of Lights, is an eight-day Jewish holiday that commemorates the rededication of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem at the time of the Maccabean Revolt in the 2nd century. The Maccabees led a Jewish revolt against the Seleucid empire, which had claimed their territory, including the Holy Temple. The Jewish fighters were able to reclaim the temple, but didn’t have enough oil left to consecrate the holy site. The small jar of oil they found was only enough to light the Temple’s Menorah for one night, but lasted eight nights, allowing for new consecrated oil to be prepared.

The holiday follows the ancient Hebrew lunar calendar and this year started at sundown Dec. 18 and the last night will be Dec. 25. 

Rabbi Bochner ended the public candle lighting event by asking attendees to take a lesson from the shamash, the candle the lights the other candles on the menorah.

“It lights the other candles and it doesn’t give up its own light. Light wants to spread. Light wants to bring other light…the ultimate thing that we dedicate ourselves to is knowing that light is always going to be more powerful than darkness…So, be like a candle that wants to share its light; spread its light. Dedicate ourselves to ways of making this world full of light and justice and freedom and peace and unity and understanding and compassion,” he said.

Congregation Beth Shalom will end Chanukah with two more events this weekend.

The seventh night will be held at 6 p.m. Saturday at Congregation Beth Shalom, along with a First Responders Dinner. For more than 10 years, the congregation has hosted First Responders Dinners over the holiday for police officers, fire fighters, emergency responders and those who are home-bound. The First Responders Dinners are part of the congregation’s commitment to Tikkun Olam (repairing the world) and making the world a better place for everybody.

The eighth night will be held at 4 p.m. Sunday at 10th Street Plaza in downtown Modesto with a Chanukah concert featuring the Ferris Wheels.