Washington Evening Journal
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Washington, IA 52353
FAIRFIELD – Fairfield’s Central Park held a large nighttime gathering for the second week in a row on Thursday night, this time to light a public menorah celebrating the fifth night of the Jewish holiday Hanukkah.
A synagogue based in Postville, called Chabad Lubavitch of Northeast Iowa, organized the festivities with help from the Fairfield synagogue called Beth Shalom. Fairfield Mayor Connie Boyer delivered the opening remarks to the dozens of people gathered on the south side of the square, and Marc Berkowitz, president of Beth Shalom, climbed a ladder to light the candles on the 10-foot-tall menorah.
The ceremony marked the second time in as many years that Chabad Lubavitch has come to Fairfield for a public menorah lighting during Hanukkah. Last year, Chabad Lubavitch traveled to Fairfield and La Crosse, Wisconsin, for public lighting ceremonies in addition to hosting a ceremony at its home base in Postville. This year, the synagogue doubled the number of towns on its tour, adding Cedar Rapids, Waterloo and Dubuque.
Rabbi Aron Schimmel of Chabad Lubavitch of Northeast Iowa described Fairfield as “the most lively place” of the towns he visited.
Schimmel explained that the purpose of the menorah lighting is to spread light, representing positivity, to Jews and non-Jews alike. He said his synagogue began the tour last year because COVID had put a damper on the public’s spirits, and its members wanted to change that.
“In order to combat the darkness, we need to have light, so we started this venture to spread light to different cities,” Schimmel said.
Schimmel reached out to cities with an active Jewish community. Schimmel has known Berkowitz and other members of the Beth Shalom congregation for decades. He’s visited Fairfield several times, including to help Beth Shalom celebrate the Jewish holiday of Purim in the spring. Schimmel contacted Berkowitz to say they’d like to spread some light in the community, and Berkowitz and the members of Beth Shalom were more than happy to help.
Berkowitz said the gathering in 2020 in Fairfield’s Central Park drew a good crowd but the temperature was in the teens so attendees “were not excited about hanging around.” That was not true in 2021 as an unusually warm December night greeted the crowd. Schimmel called the nice weather a “Hanukkah miracle.”
Berkowitz said Jews are encouraged to put a lighted menorah in the windows of their homes.
“It’s not meant to be a secret ceremony,” he said. “We are declaring to the world that we’re trying to bring more light to the world. There have been times in Jewish history when people had to celebrate in secret because they were under threat of death.”
Berkowitz said the word Hanukkah means “dedication,” and refers to two times in Jewish history when the Jews’ holy temple in Jerusalem was overrun by enemies. During Schimmel’s presentation to the crowd Thursday, he reviewed the history of the holiday, which recalls a victory from more than 2,100 years ago of a “military weak but spiritually strong” Jewish people against the Syrian Greeks, who had captured Israel.
Schimmel said the Syrian Greeks desecrated and defiled the oils prepared for the lighting of the menorah in Jerusalem’s holy temple. Upon recapturing the temple, the Jewish people found only one jar of undefiled oil, enough to burn for one day, but miraculously lasted for eight days, which is why Hanukkah is celebrated for eight days.