Saturday, December 17, 2016

7-foot menorah going up at White Oaks Mall 

A seven-foot-tall aluminum menorah will be on display for the Jewish celebration of Hanukkah on the lower level of White Oaks Mall in the Dick's Sporting Goods wing.

Springfield Mayor Jim Langfelder will be among dignitaries participating in the official lighting ceremony at 5:30 p.m. Dec. 29, marking the sixth night of Hanukkah, which begins Dec. 25. (Jewish holidays begin at sundown the evening before specified dates.)

The Chabad Jewish Center of Springfield is behind the menorah, a new concept for Springfield, said Rabbi Mendy Turen, who founded the local branch of the organization when he moved to the city from Chicago this summer.

Chabad, an acronym for the Hebrew words denoting "wisdom, understanding and knowledge," has put up large public menorahs for the past 40-plus years, beginning with a public lighting near the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia in 1974, according to Chabad's website. That was at the urging of the influential Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, the Hasidic group's leader, or "Rebbe," who died in 1994.

A smaller menorah, placed by the Chicago-based Lubavitch Chabad of Illinois, said Turen, has been on display for years at the Capital Rotunda. Public displays of religion, like menorahs and nativity sets, have withstood legal challenges since a 1989 Supreme Court decision.

While Hanukkah is associated with celebrations in Jewish households, "part of the idea of the holiday is to publicize it," said Turen, one of the reasons Chabad has taken menorahs to public spaces. Much like the menorah in homes is lit in the doorway or front window, Turen wanted the large menorah in "a central place," with a lot of foot traffic.

Hanukkah commemorates the second century BCE victory of ragtag Jewish resistance forces against the armies of the Greek king of the Seleucid Empire, Antiochus. Reclaiming the profaned temple, the Maccabees had only a cruse of olive oil to light the candelabra before more oil could be procured eight days later, but the small supply miraculously kept burning, giving rise to the eight-day festival.

"It's a time to thank God for the miracles he has done and continues to do," said Turen, who runs the Chabad center out of his home with his wife, Sara. "It's a joyous holiday. It does have a prayer part, but we're asking God to continue to do miracles for us and the entire world."

"Light" is a central theme to Hanukkah, he added, literally and metaphorically.

"If you have a dark room and bring in a candle, it pushes away the darkness," said Turen. "We know the world is filled with negativity. We can push away the darkness in the world with the goodness that we do."

Hanukkah is a "rabbinic" holiday -- other holy days, like Passover and Yom Kippur have roots in the Torah, or Jewish written law and the source of the Ten Commandments -- but that doesn't diminish its significance, said Turen.

"People have had to sacrifice a lot to celebrate Hanukkah, to light the menorah," he said.

Some non-Jews, allowed Turen, know what menorahs or dreidels -- four-side spinning tops -- are or know that Hanukkah comes around in the winter time. The official lighting will come with some other Hanukkah delicacies, promised Turen, including sufganiyot, deep-fried doughnuts filled with jelly or custard and topped with powdered sugar, and latkes, shallow-fried pancakes of grated potatoes.

And that seven-foot tall menorah in the mall?

"It's a teachable moment for many people," acknowledged Turen. "Even Jewish people not involved in their community, it can remind them about the holiday. And it can bring awareness to non-Jews."


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