The annual menorah lighting in downtown Skokie is a yearly reminder for Rabbi Yochanan Posner how fortunate he is to be an American and to be able to practice his religion in public.
Several dozen attendees came out Dec. 28 on the fifth night of Hanukkah this year to enjoy the prayer, songs, latkes and donuts and a fire dancer.
The event took place at Skokie’s Site of Civic Pride. It’s where, for over three decades, representatives from the village and Lubavitch Chabad of Skokie have celebrated the Jewish holiday with the lighting a traditional menorah and also an electric menorah that stands roughly six-feet tall in the public square.
Skokie Mayor George Van Dusen addressed the crowd gathered and noted that various other representatives of the local government, including village manager John Lockerby, had come out to join in the festivities
Posner, who leads holiday celebrations and education programs at Lubavitch Chabad, said he remembers coming with his father, Rabbi Yosef Posner, director of the Chad, to prepare for the annual public celebration as far back as the early 1980s. The event is especially meaningful to him because many of his Jewish relatives in Russia and Poland had to hide their faith from public view or risk persecution, he said.
Of all the Jewish holidays, Posner said Hanukkah is most representative of outreach to the greater public and a menorah lighting that’s open to all, no matter their faith, is a perfect way to celebrate the “festival of lights.”
Attendees — who ranged in age from infants to older adults — gathered around the latkes, also known as potato pancakes, and the donuts, both of which are foods typically eaten during the Hanukah holiday, chatted between the prayers, songs and the featured entertainment of the night: A fire dancer who spun around various flaming batons. A man dressed in a dreidel costume — the small four-sided spinning top bearing letters of the Hebrew alphabet often present during Hanukkah celebrations — posed for photos with the attendees.
In an address to the crowd, Van Dusen reminded attendees that celebrations like this are a illustration of Skokie’s commitment to a diverse and unified community.
“We live in very challenging and very difficult times,” he said. “Change is afoot and we don’t know what change is coming.”
Community unity provides “the kind of stability that will ensure our great future” no matter what changes come down the pike, Van Dusen said.
Skokie resident Debbie Holstein, 42, who attended the event with her parents and a family friend, said she did so because the celebration was a way for her to recognize and celebrate the right to religious freedom she and her fellow Americans are afforded.
Posner said he agreed with the mayor’s statement about the uncertain times both domestically and abroad.
He said he can’t tackle all the world’s problems and the best he can do is to “illuminate” the community with a “good and positive message.” The yearly menorah lighting allows him to do that in Skokie, he said.
After all, Posner said, the best way to fight darkness is with light.
Lee V. Gaines is a freelancer.