Celebrating Hanukkah at Clifton City Hall - The First Night Hanukkiah Lighting


Editor Tova Felder and City Manager Nick Villano in front of the City Hall hanukkiah.

December 7th was the first night of Hanukkah, the Jewish Festival of Lights, and City Manager Nick Villano and the City Council, under the leadership of Mayor Grabowski, invited Clifton's Jewish community to take on the responsibility of lighting the City Hall hanukkiah, the traditional Jewish candelabra designated specifically for the Hanukkah candles. A different family will be responsible for lighting the candles on some of the remaining nights of Hanukkah, shortly after sunset.

Mayor Grabowski, Board of Education Commissioner Richie Meija, and other guests braved the cold to spread some light for Hanukkah

Many of Clifton’s leaders and citizens came out to celebrate this first night of the Festival of Lights, with sufganyiot, the traditional jelly-filled donuts, on the steps of City Hall. The Clifton Times' editor Tova Felder and her family led the celebration and lit the central shamash, the helper candle in the middle of the hanukkiah, and the first candle representing the first day of the festival.

Newly elected Board of Education Commissioner Joseph Siano and veteran Commissioner Judy Bassford joined Barbara James and Lily Goodman-D’Amato for the celebration.

Felder began with an explanation that while traditionally the hanukkiah would be lit with fire, this is not possible on City Hall property, and as such, the electric hanukkiah would be lit with the flip of a switch. She explained that each night, a new candle will be lit, increasing the light, until all eight candles, plus the shamash, are all burning bright. A different Jewish family will light the hanukkiah on each of the following nights, Felder said, and while many of the nights are taken, she said that a few were unclaimed and invited other Jewish families to reach out to her if they wished to claim one of the open spots and represent Clifton's Jewish community in lighting the hanukkiah. Interested parties can send her an email at thecliftontimes@gmail.com.

Felder then gave a brief explanation of the history and significance of Hanukkah, which we have reprinted here with minor edits.

The History of Hanukkah: Hanukkah, also called “The Festival of Lights” is not a holiday of religious obligation the way Rosh Hashanah, Sukkot, or most other Jewish holidays are. There is no requirement to abstain from work or to go to synagogue and pray. The message of Hanukkah, however, is of tremendous importance. It’s a message of resistance when outside forces tried to force the Jewish community to assimilate - to abandon its Jewishness.

Hanukkah commemorates a historical event that took place in Jerusalem more than 2,000 years ago, in the 2nd century BCE, when the Seleucid Greek empire was the ruling power. Jews had been living and practicing their religion in relative peace until a new king, Antiochus IV, began his reign over Syria, which at that time included the land of Israel. In an attempt to unify his kingdom around a common religion and culture, Antiochus suppressed Jewish laws and tried to force Greek culture on the Jews living there. He forbade Jewish worship, the honoring of Shabbat, the practicing of dietary laws, and other Jewish practices. He sent his army to kill thousands of Jews, who chose death rather than let go of their Judaism.

In 168 BCE, Antiochus defiled the second Jewish Temple in Jerusalem by installing an altar to Zeus and sacrificing pigs there. This final indignity led to the Hasmonean revolt, when a man named Judah led a group of Jews to victory over the much more powerful Syrian-Greek army. Judah was called Maccabee, which is a word created from the initial letters of four Hebrew words meaning, “Who is like You, Oh God.”

After winning this war, the temple needed to be cleaned of everything that made it unholy and rededicated. The word Hanukkah means “dedication.”

The celebration of Hanukkah lasts eight nights, based on the story of a small jar of holy oil, only enough to keep the temple’s lantern lit for one night. Folklore teaches that it miraculously lasted for eight…until new oil could be processed. Whether or not this part is true is still a matter of some debate.

Hanukkah, like the rededication of the holy temple, falls on the 25th day of Kislev. This Hebrew month typically falls sometime in December on the Gregorian calendar, though it aligned with Thanksgiving several years ago.

The Clifton Times Editor Tova Felder and her husband Andrew Pfaff led the crowd in singing the Hanukkah blessings

The Significance of Hanukkah in Modern Times: Felder explained that in modern times, many scholars and Jewish writers have talked about the importance of bringing light into the world and how each of us can help to do that, quoting a 2021 editorial by Jeremy Drey:

“The holiday has gained extra resonance in recent years amid a resurgence of antisemitism in America and around the world. Such cruelty makes clear that this commemoration of ancient Jews’ struggles against persecution is all too relevant today.

It reminds all of us to continue being vigilant today. It means engaging in acts of friendship and refusing to tolerate hateful acts or commentary on the part of others. Let this occasion serve as a reminder to people of all faiths of the need to bring light into the world all year long.”

Felder then thanked everyone who braved the cold and the dark to join the celebration and bring forth a little bit of light. Felder and her husband Andrew Pfaff lit the candles and invited the Jewish attendees to sing the blessings. On this first night a third blessing, the Shehecheyanu, was sung, thanking God for bringing us all to this season.

Jelly donuts from We Bake Fresh

The celebration concluded with delicious donuts from We Bake Fresh, a local Clifton bakery, and little bags containing eight Hershey kisses, to sweeten each of the eight nights to come. Hanukkah is traditionally celebrated with fried foods, to honor the oil that lasted for eight nights, including donuts and latkes, potato pancakes often served with sour cream and apple sauce. For more on the fried foods that typify Hanukkah please see our article on them HERE.

The Clifton Times wishes all who celebrate a very happy Hanukkah. For more on other Hanukkah events in Clifton, please check out our local events calendar HERE.

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