Members of the Jewish community have a new opportunity to celebrate their faith this season as the Chabad Jewish Center of Hall County brings a public menorah lighting to Rock Creek Veterans Park amphitheater in Gainesville.
At 5 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 2 — the fifth night of the eight-day Festival of Lights, also known as Hanukkah, which spans Nov. 28 to Dec. 6 this year — the Chabad will facilitate the lighting of a 9-foot menorah, an eight-branched candelabrum symbolizing the triumph of good over evil as second century Jews recovered their religious freedom and the Holy Temple in Jerusalem from the Seleucid Greek empire.
According to Rabbi Nechemia Gurevitz, director of the Chabad Jewish Center of Hall County, Thursday’s Hanukkah celebration is the first of its kind in Gainesville, though the holiday has been observed by Jewish communities throughout the world and the state as a “universal symbol of religious freedom.”
“Today, people of all faiths consider the holiday a symbol and message of the triumph of freedom over oppression, of spirit over matter, of light over darkness,” Gurevitz said. “Over millennia of persecution, the menorah has had to be hidden indoors, away from those who hated us for our faith. But now that we live in a country that protects and guarantees freedom of religion...the menorah has come back out and is part of the public celebration of Hanukkah.”
According to Gurevitz, between 500 and 1,000 Jews presently reside in Hall County, representing up to about 0.5% of the population. In addition to providing avenues for these individuals to “celebrate their Jewishness with meaningful programming,” the local Chabad also exists to enrich the spiritual lives of “all people everywhere,” Gurevitz said.
Thursday’s event is intended to unite the Gainesville community, Jewish and non-Jewish alike. According to Gurevitz, it’s an opportunity to not just observe, but to participate in celebrating and learning from one another’s holidays.
“It’s not a religious service, per se; it’s open to the whole community,” he said. “The point of the holiday, especially here in the United States, is that lighting a menorah in public was, at one time, unimaginable. The message of Hanukkah is a message for every single person, no matter what faith. It’s a message of freedom of religion, it’s a message of triumph of spirituality over matter — the (second century) Greeks were all about ignoring spirituality and all about rationalism and forbidding the practice of minority faith. The history of Hanukkah teaches us that good will always prevail. The message is universal; it’s not just a celebration of a Jewish victory 2,000 years ago, but it’s a message that, today, is applicable to so many different aspects in everyone’s life.”
Hanukkah doughnuts and latkes will be part of Thursday’s celebration, which Gurevitz said he hopes to see continue in Gainesville for many years to come.