Emerson College’s only independent, student-run newspaper since 1947

The Berkeley Beacon

Emerson College’s only independent, student-run newspaper since 1947

The Berkeley Beacon

Emerson College’s only independent, student-run newspaper since 1947

The Berkeley Beacon

Annual menorah lighting marks the first night of Hanukkah and casts a beacon of hope amid rising anti-semitism

Madla Walsh
Massachusetts Governor Maura Healey, Boston Mayor Michelle Wu and Rabbi Yosef Jazklos rise 22 feet into the air to light the menorah on Thursday, Dec. 7, 2023.

The Chabad of Downtown Boston held its 40th annual menorah lighting on Dec. 7, drawing in hundreds of Boston’s Jewish community members. 

Standing in the Boston Common near the Park Street MBTA station, the 22-foot tall menorah remains the largest in New England. This long-standing tradition has brought the local Jewish community together since 1983.

Hanukkah, or “dedication” in Hebrew, is a Jewish holiday that commemorates the recovery of Jerusalem and the ensuing rededication of the Second Temple at the start of the Maccabean Revolt in the second century B.C.E. The holiday celebrates the miracle of the small amount of oil that burned for eight days when there was only enough to last for one day.

Starting the night, Rabbi Yosef Zaklos addressed the importance of upholding the Hanukkah tradition even in the face of rising hate and violence toward the Jewish community.

“Hanukkah lights teach us not to hunker down, but to shine up, brighter, bigger and bolder— darkness, you don’t stand a chance,” Rabbi Zaklos said. “The display of Jewish pride is more important than ever.”

Echoing Rabbi Zaklos’ sentiment encouraging the audience to proudly display their Jewish identity, Robert Trestan, the vice president of the Anti-Defamation League, shared some emboldening words.

“We need to be proud to support Israel, we need to be proud to support a Jewish homeland, and we need to do all of that publically,” he said.

Rabbi Zaklos recognized the plight of those in Israel right now. As the war intensifies, the community sends their prayers for the safety of the soldiers, hostages, and people of Israel.

“Our thoughts and prayers are with our brethren in the Holy Land,” said Rabbi Zaklos. “We stand here and pray with them for their safety and return of the 138 hostages.”

Rabbi Yosef Jazklos addresses the crowd during the annual menorah lighting on Boston Common on Thursday, Dec. 7, 2023. (Madla Walsh/Beacon Staff)

The uncertain fate of the hostages weighed heavily on this celebratory night for Jewish people, members of the crowd said. The Jewish community expressed a deeply felt absence for each life lost in this war. This Hanukkah, Consul General of Israel to New England Meron Reuben, honored the two child hostages left captive in Gaza.  

“This evening before coming here, we lit our first candles at the consulate. They were orange candles lit for the two red-headed little boys from the Bibas family who were kidnapped 62 days ago; four-year-old Ariel Bibas and his baby brother Kfir Bibas who is only 10 months old,” said Reuben.  

As the war escalated, so has nationwide anti-Semitism. According to data from a report by the advocacy group Anti-Defamation League, anti-Semitic incidents in the U.S. have risen by 400 percent

Following this drastic surge, safety concerns arose amidst hosting this public event. This year, the menorah was surrounded by grey security fencing, guards, and several police cars. 

Despite the dangers of holding a public Jewish celebration, passionate guest speakers attended and expressed their support for the Jewish community. Gov. Maura Healey and Mayor Michelle Wu were among the night’s speakers who condemned hate of all kinds.

“We should all be unequivocally clear about the need to denounce hate, violence, threats of violence, and acts of violence here in this state and across this country,” said Healey. “It is important that we state our love and support for our Jewish neighbors and community, it’s a community of kindness and compassion that we celebrate, a community that has contributed so meaningfully to the history of this state and our nation.”

After the guest speakers completed their statements, Healey, Wu and other Jewish community leaders joined Rabbi Zaklos in lighting the ceremonial first candle. Upon the completion of traditional Hanukkah prayers and candle-lighting, the crowd erupted in applause.

Eventgoers wave flags in support of Israel, chanting “Bring them home” throughout the night on Thursday, Dec. 7, 2023. (Madla Walsh/Beacon Staff)

While attendees were joyous to engage in this celebration of the Festival of Lights, the dangers of attending this public event couldn’t be ignored. Deanna Palmin, who has attended Chabad of Downtown Boston’s menorah lighting for the past three years, described the changes she’s seen.

“It’s the lightest attendance I’ve seen here in the past three years,” she said. “I know two of my friends didn’t come because they didn’t feel safe.”

Attendee Stuart Root has become more active in the Jewish community and loud and proud about his identity since the Oct. 7 Hamas attack against Israel. 

“I think it’s more important than ever to be open and free,” he said. “The Jewish community is strong, and this is a good sign of it.”

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About the Contributor
Margaux Jubin
Margaux Jubin, Staff Writer
Margaux Jubin is a sophomore journalism major from Los Angeles, California. She is currently a Staff Writer for the Berkeley Beacon. Outside The Beacon, Margaux loves live music, hanging out with friends, and spending time in nature.

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