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Hanukkah Miracles on display during menorah lighting

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Children sing during the Community Menorah Lighting at Congregation Bayt Shalom on Dec. 4, 2018. (Molly Mathis/The Daily Reflector)

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By Karen Eckert
The Daily Reflector

Thursday, December 6, 2018

Greenville’s synagogue hosted community and religious leaders and other guests at its first-ever community menorah-lighting celebration at sundown this week to educate visitors about the traditions of Hanukkah.

Harley Karz-Wagman, the rabbi at Congregation Bayt-Shalom and organizer of the event, describes Hanukkah as the “Jewish festival of lights, freedom and dedication.”

The eight-day festival occurs each December, falling anywhere between Nov. 27 and Dec. 26. Like the Christian holiday of Easter, Hanukkah is based on the lunar month and therefore falls on a different set of days each year. 

On Tuesday, which was the third day of the festival, participants lighted candles on the menorah, recited blessings, sang and enjoyed Hanukkah games and treats. 

A menorah (derived from the word “lamp” in Hebrew) is a candelabrum with eight candles plus a central candle that resides in the highest spot and is used to light the other candles. A menorah can be of any size. The one at Tuesday’s event happened to be eight feet tall and was stationed in the synagogue’s fellowship hall. It was a gift from another congregation.

During Hanukkah, people light the menorah in synagogues and homes to commemorate the story of a small group of Jews called the Maccabees, who, 2,200 years ago, were able to reclaim control of the Temple in Jerusalem from the Greeks who had destroyed it.

The Maccabees then wanted to rededicate the Temple by lighting the central lamp. However, they had only one day’s supply of the special oil that they needed. They went ahead and lit the lamp, and the oil ended up lasting for eight days instead of one, which was considered to be a miracle.

Brad Smith, senior pastor at The Memorial Baptist Church, attended the event along with his wife, Jamie, and their children Alex, 12, and Brooklyn, 9.

“I was very impressed and glad the rabbi had the foresight  to invite so many different people ... I thought it was just a great way to sit everybody around a table and have great conversation and come together [in a] spirit of unity,” said Smith.

Smith brought his entire family, he said, because he wants his children “to have open eyes to all that is around them [including] aspects of other religions ... I want them to follow the commandment of Christ to love all people.”

“It was cool,” said Smith’s daughter, Brooklyn, referring to the menorah lighting. She saw a connection with lighting candles at her own church for Advent.

Also attending Tuesday night’s event was Mario Perez, Pitt County District Court judge, who is Catholic.

“I thought it was a unifying event,” said Perez. “This is a way to make sure [we] realize we have so much more in common [and that] love is much stronger than hate.”

Faris Dixon, Pitt County District Attorney-elect, said he enjoyed the latkes served after the lighting ceremony. Latkes are potato pancakes fried in oil. Oil is used for cooking at Hanukkah in remembrance of the oil that burned in the Maccabees’ lamp.

Marc Miller and his wife, Susan, and their two boys, James, 8, and Wesley, 5, are members of the synagogue. Miller was glad that the congregation opened their doors to the community for the menorah lighting.

“I love the idea. I love the visibility of it ... We’re showing other people what we do,” he said. “In the climate that we have today, there are probably some misconceptions based on just not knowing all there is to know about people who are different, and if this sheds a little light on some of the things that we do differently that could help. That could lessen that lack of understanding (that results from) lack of experience. If you don’t have experience with people of different cultures, you might not know how they do things and because of that you might have preconceived ideas or prejudices.” 

Miller’s sons know how to find the fun in Hanukkah.

“The dreidel game is fun because you get a lot of gelt (chocolate coins)” said Miller’s son James. 

James’ brother Wesley likes eating latkes, and the boys’ friend, Arrington, 7, likes getting presents.

In addition to being about lighting candles, fun, special foods and prayers, Hanukkah is about miracles. 

Karz-Wagman, sees miracles everywhere. He even saw them Tuesday night.

“I’m really excited about how many people from the community came out,” he said. “The diversity of the groups that were represented here amazed me, the various faith community leaders that showed up. As a little sidebar, how many people that didn’t know each other had a chance to meet each other tonight? That surprised me.”

Known for his sense of humor, the rabbi added that there had been one more miracle Tuesday night.

“We started almost on time,” he said.

Hanukkah concludes at sundown on Monday with the lighting of the eighth, and final, candle.

For more information about Congregation Bayt-Shalom, visit www.baytshalom.org.

Karen Eckert can be reached at 329-9565 or at keckert@reflector.com.

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