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menorah lighting connected to jewish history, faith and values

rabbi nisan andrews explains the symbolic importance of the menorah to the jewish community

jewish community celebrates religion, spirituality through menorah
the city of calgary's menorah is moved into the atrium at city hall in preparation for the annual menorah lighting ceremony on thursday, december 7, 2023. gavin young/postmedia

amid the controversy of m ayor jyoti gondek’s decision to not attend thursday’s annual menorah lighting at city hall , rabbi nisan andrews of the house of jacob-mikveh israel in southwest calgary explained the symbolic importance of the menorah to the jewish community.

the lighting of the menorah dates back to the second century, when the seleucid empire banned all jewish faith practices, attempting to instead create a culture where all the same gods and idols would be worshipped, the same language would be spoken and the same cultural values would be shared.
“this was an anathema to the jews who lived in israel,” andrews said.
“it meant they weren’t allowed to observe jewish rituals, practice circumcision, mark jewish holidays, keep the sabbath, or study the torah.”
a rebellion was led within the province of judeah to ensure jews would have the freedom to worship according to their practices and traditions.
after that successful rebellion, the jewish people were able to cleanse their temple of idols and light the menorah for the first time. and while there was only enough oil to light a candle for one night, the light remained for eight full nights, marking a miracle.
“menorah is the hebrew word for candelabra, and you can have different kinds,” added andrews.

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traditionally, the menorah lit inside of a jewish temple has seven lights, representing the branches of human knowledge, and leaning towards the central light, representing god.
a hanukkah menorah, however, has eight lights, with a raised central light set apart as the shamash, or servant, and used to light the other eight. this menorah is also closely associated with the hanukkah jewish holiday at this time of year.
andrews explained the lighting of the menorah at city hall is a very recent phenomenon.
“because we’ve lived in countries where we’ve been persecuted, so having a menorah lighting where we can be a participant in greater society, where we are respected and valued as much as any minority, is of incredible significance.
“it means we are home, we are here, we are present, and we have been acknowledged and appreciated.
andrews said jews have been a religious and ethnic minority throughout the past 2,000 years, watching how cities, organizations and institutions have valued christianity, allowing christmas tree lighting ceremonies.
“we have watched that from the outside. so something like this at city hall puts us on the inside and that is of incredible significance.”

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the menorah lighting during hanukkah celebrations is also a strong reminder of jewish spirituality, connection and values.
“jewish values are perhaps the bedrock of modern western values, the concepts of charity, responsibility, a deeper, more comprehensive understanding of working for the greater good,” andrews said.
“these are all very, very old jewish values, communicated in the bible, and then to a certain extent seeped into the surrounding cultures and especially the christian community.
“the values we place on community obligation, compassion, sympathy — these are inherently jewish values. we like to think they started with us, where western values were not co-opted, but adopted, by the other abrahamic faiths.”

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