Hundreds attended a public menorah lighting at the B.C. legislature on Sunday as Jewish communities across Vancouver Island celebrated the fourth day of Hanukkah, Judaism’s “festival of lights.”
As about 300 people gathered in front of a nine-foot-tall menorah, Rabbi Meir Kaplan of the Chabad of Vancouver Island and Victoria-Swan Lake MLA Rob Fleming jointly lit the first candle with a butane lighter strapped to a tiki torch after the singing of Ma-oz Tzur, a Jewish liturgical poem.
A four-piece band made up of members from the Yiddish Columbia State Orchestra struck up klezmer tunes as old friends reconnected and children danced and played across the legislature lawn.
The Chabad of Vancouver Island gave out driedels — a four-sided spinning top played during Hanukkah — hot chocolate and glow-in-the-dark mittens at the event, though the anticipated sufganiyot (donuts) from Vancouver did not arrive on time because the float-plane delivery was cancelled due to fog.
Hanukkah marks the rededication of the temple in Jerusalem in the second century B.C., after a small group of Jewish fighters, known as the Maccabees, liberated it from occupying foreign forces. With a small supply of ritually pure oil found in the temple, they lit the temple menorah for a miraculous eight days.
Kaplan told attendees that candlelight in a dark room still has the power to transform and inspire.
“The Jewish people have experienced one of the darkest days in our recent history,” he said in reference to the Oct. 7 attacks by Hamas, which killed about 1,200 people and saw about 240 hostage taken from Israel.
“Today, as we light the Hanukkah candles, we will remember about the power of light, the light that exists within each and every one of us,” he said.
In a speech, Fleming said it’s important to stand with the Jewish community, as the majority of religious hate crimes — 62 per cent — are against Jewish people, who only make up around one per cent of the total census population.
Fleming initially said that 60 per cent of all reported hate crimes were against Jewish people, but clarified on Monday to the Times Colonist that the figure he cited was specific to religion-motivated hate crimes, which accounted for 20 per cent of all hate crimes reported in 2022, according to Statistics Canada.
Police were present at the legislature on Sunday and helped remove a woman who attempted to disrupt the proceedings during Kaplan’s speech.
The woman, who left without being arrested, was protesting the Israeli military’s killing of thousands of children in the Gaza Strip.
Rabbi Lynn Greenhough of Saanich’s Kolot Mayim Reform Temple said that public gatherings like these remind Jewish people of who they are and how interconnected everyone is.
Greenhough said Hanukkah’s celebration of the Maccabee Jews holds a special meaning for both Jewish people and Israel. “That was the last time that the Jews held the land of Israel until 1948 … We’re tying together 2,500 years of history.”
Kaplan told the Times Colonist that this year’s public menorah lighting was the most-attended since it began 20 years ago.
Similar menorah lighting ceremonies occurred Sunday in front of Courtenay City Hall and Thursday at Maffeo Sutton Park in Nanaimo, organized by Chabad Nanaimo and Central Vancouver Island.
More lightings are scheduled to be held in Duncan, on Salt Spring Island, and at the University of Victoria in coming days. On Thursday evening, Congregation Emanu-El will light one of B.C.’s largest Hanukkah menorahs in Centennial Square.
— With files from the Associated Press