A small, but mighty gathering of Jewish community members brought both figurative and literal light to Stanislaus State and greater Turlock on Wednesday evening as they lit the candles of a five-foot menorah during the town’s first-ever public Chanukah ceremony
This event, hosted by the Congregation Beth Shalom in Modesto, gave participants a chance to celebrate religious freedom, Jewish history and “the power of light over darkness, the triumph of hope over despair,” with the lighting of the Chanukah menorah, holiday songs and treats.
Turlock resident Myrna Wachs, who belongs on the Congregation Beth Shalom Board of Directors, said she not only attended the public lighting ceremony at Stanislaus State on Wednesday, but the preceding ceremony on Tuesday in Downtown Modesto as well. She said that she plans to go to all of the celebrations.
“This is all about light and peace and we need both of those now,” said Wachs. “We just want to get the word out and bring light to the world and by that we hope to bring peace.”
Chanukah is an eight day Jewish holiday celebrating religious freedom, which dates back to more than 2,170 years ago. The main observance of the holiday is the lighting of the Chanukah Menorah shortly after sunset to publicize the miraculous story of the re-dedication of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem at the time of victory of the Maccabees. According to the Talmud, a small jar of oil, with only enough oil for one night, lasted eight days allowing for new consecrated oil to be prepared for the Temple’s Menorah. The holiday is also known as the Festival of Lights.
While family celebrations of Chanukah have occurred in the region since before the founding of a local Jewish congregation in the early 1920s, this year’s public outdoor event is believed to be the first community-wide celebration to ever occur in Turlock. More than 100 people participated in last year’s event in downtown Modesto.
“We decided three years ago to do a first ever lighting in downtown Modesto and the thought is to bring this out into the streets,” said Rabbi Shalom Bochner. “One of the important acts of the holiday is to publicize it and you can’t really publicize it sitting in your own synagogue, your own house.
“Since it was so successful in Modesto, I thought this year let’s bring it to places that have smaller Jewish communities—places we’ve never been before. If only ten people show up, that’s ten more that would show up if we didn’t do it,” continued Bochner.
Bochner said that the underlying goal of Wednesday’s ceremony was to “get people together to add some publicity about Chanukah” since he considers it not to be a well-known holiday throughout the country, as well as do some outreach in the community.
“Much more important than all of that is this lesson of light over darkness,” said Bochner. “We see the light growing in the world every year in winter, and certainly this year in the last couple of weeks with these horrible events in San Bernardino and France. The Jewish response is to bring light.
“Even if it’s a small start with 12 people here standing here lighting candles, we believe we have to do something,” continued Bochner.
This year’s Chanukah celebration commenced on Sunday in Downtown Oakdale, and progressed to Downtown Modesto on Tuesday. Following Wednesday’s public lighting ceremony at Stanislaus State, the congregation has plans to continue the event at 4:30 p.m. on Friday in McHenry Village in Modesto and will wrap up the last night of Chanukah at 4:30 p.m. on Sunday in Downtown Tracy.
Congregation Beth Shalom is the only Jewish congregation in Stanislaus County and the greater Modesto areas. As the Center for Jewish Life, they provide a wide variety of cultural, educational, holiday and social programs for the diverse Jewish population and local community.
Congregation Beth Shalom is located at 1705 Sherwood Avenue in Modesto. For more information, call 571-6060 or visit cbsmodesto.org.