Just over one month after the deadliest attack on the Jewish community in American history, the Laramie Jewish Community Center will be hosting a public Menorah Lighting Ceremony to celebrate life and “bring light into this world.”
Organized in part to show solidarity with the lives lost at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, after a man shot and killed 11 congregation members on Oct. 27, Laramie’s first public menorah lighting is also celebrating the first night of Chanukah, a Jewish holiday.
Laurie Richmond, president of the Laramie Jewish Community Center, said she does not feel there’s a presence of anti-Semitism in Laramie, and the event isn’t meant to be somber or sad.
“It will be a celebration of life, because as Jews, we’re always celebrating life,” Richmond said. “For every disaster, every catastrophe that befalls us, we’re told to do another mitzvah — another good deed, something that will bring light into this world. It won’t be a time for sorrow or vigil.”
Chanukah, also commonly referred to as Hanukkah, is an eight-day Jewish holiday commemorating the re-dedication of the Second Temple in Jerusalem at the time of the Maccabian Revolt in 160 BCE. Starting at sundown on Sunday, the holiday is filled with food, games, songs and ceremonies, including the lighting of the menorah each night.
Richmond said the 9-foot tall menorah that will be lit Sunday night was a mitzvah, or generous gift, from someone in Jackson Hole.
“We don’t have huge Christmas trees with gobs of presents,” Richmond said. “We have the hanukkiah — or menorah — for our time, and the mitzvah is about lighting a candle and adding a candle every night. This is how we commemorate that God prevailed over the enemy forces during the time that the Jews were under heavy persecution in the Holy Land.”
Chanukah is a holiday deeply rooted in tradition. The Menorah Lighting Ceremony will feature many of the traditional Chanukah dishes and treats, including hot potato latkes and Kosher donuts filled with jelly (sufganiyot) from Denver.
“We’re going to have Chanukah gelt, which are chocolate coins that are very much celebratory of the season and symbols of the season,” Richmond said. “It’s a time of family and friendship, and community very much so. I’m sure that we’ll see a number of pastors from our interfaith community.”
The community is also invited to sing traditional Chanukah songs and hear the story of Chanukah during the event. Richmond said there will also be a special message from Rabbi Zalman Mendelsohn, a Rabbi with the Chabad-Lubavitch of Wyoming in Jackson Hole, in dedication to the 11 lives lost in Pittsburgh.
“We’re part of a community,” Richmond said. “It’s just to show people what we do, what it’s about, so there’s no mystery.”
While the idea for the event in Laramie came in part from Mendelsohn, Richmond said the act of lighting menorahs in public spaces came from an idea The Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, had before he died in 1994.
“Basically, it was the idea to bring some light at this time and season, as we always think of light as overcoming darkness and that with love, we overcome hatred,” Richmond said.
More than just a time to come together, Richmond said she wants the menorah to be symbol of religious freedom in Laramie.
“This is just something to bring some light – albeit it’s a massive menorah,” Richmond said. “I want the menorah to serve as a symbol of Laramie’s dedication to preserve and encourage the right and liberty of all of its citizens to worship freely, celebrate openly and share in our diversity with pride.”
The event is free and open to the public.