The Chabad Jewish Center will celebrate Hanukkah with the lighting of a six-foot menorah, the largest menorah in Whatcom County, at 5:15 p.m. on Dec. 6 in Red Square.
“A six-foot menorah is always something to see,” Chabad student leader Oriana Luca said.
Hanukkah begins at sundown on Dec. 4 this year. On Dec. 6, the third night of Hanukkah, special assistant of Multicultural Affairs Kunle Ojikutu will light the central candle. Chabad members Darryl Spencer, Rani Shakh and Eli Jayson will each use the central candle to light another candle on the menorah. The menorah will be taken down that night and lit again at 4:30 p.m. on Dec. 9 on the Fairhaven Village Green. Superior Court Judge Charles Snyder will light the central candle.
“People like to see this display of freedom of religion and cultural diversity,” Chabad director Rabbi Levi Backman said.
After the menorah lighting in Red Square, students are invited into Bond Hall 105 for a celebration. Latkes, a kind of potato pancake traditionally eaten around Hanukkah, will be served.
“The food is wonderful,” Chabad student leader Jonathan Hanig said. “I love latkes. They're one of my favorite foods.”
Chabad will also give away free menorahs, candles and dreidels to students at the celebration. Dreidel is a kind of gambling game, but instead of money, young people play for chocolate gold coins called gelt, Hanig said.
A dreidel is a four-sided top with a Hebrew letter on each side. The letters are “nun,” “hei,” “gimel” and “shin.” Together, the letters form the phrase “a great miracle happened there.” This phrase references what happened after the destruction of the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem, Hanig said. After the Romans destroyed the temple, there was only enough oil to keep the eternal flame in the temple burning for one day. Miraculously, however, the oil burned for eight days. The eight candles on the menorah symbolize this.
“It's our own way of saying, ‘We're here too,'” Hanig said of the menorah. “It's not trying to dominate. It's not trying to be condescending.”
The celebration is open to anyone who wants to come, Backman said. No one needs to feel pressure to change their religious views.
“We don't go around telling anybody to be Jewish,” Backman said. “That's not the Jewish religion.”
The menorah lighting is not an exclusive religious ceremony, Luca said. It is a cultural and social experience for everyone.
“The Rabbi has done a really good job of welcoming anyone and everyone into the Jewish community,” Luca said.
Backman and his wife Hadassah direct Chabad from their house at 717 High St. Chabad is a Jewish organization with centers in towns and college campuses worldwide. The Backmans serve all of Whatcom County, as well as Western Washington University.
Chabad is here for Jews and non-Jews of all ages on campus and in the community, Backman said.
“It's like your one-stop shop for every Jewish need,” Backman said.
Chabad provides Shabbat services every Friday night, which is the beginning of Jewish Sabbath. Instead of formal lectures on the Torah, everyone sits down to dinner and has an open discussion, Luca said.
“It's nice to know I'm spending my Friday night doing something a little more productive than getting trashed,” Luca said.
Luca added that Backman understands that college students are busy and can't come to Shabbat every week.
Hanig said he always looks forward to Shabbat.
“The Sabbath is, for a lot of us, about the community,” Hanig said. “It's not just for Jews. It's for everyone.”