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A City of Multiple Traditions Celebrates Hanukkah

Menorah-lighting held at city hall Tuesday

Officials and representatives of the region’s Jewish community gathered at city hall Tuesday for a menorah-lighting to mark the eight-day Hanukkah celebration.

Mitch Cahn, who owns a Newark business and whose family traces its roots in the city back 100 years, did the honors, igniting four lamps on a menorah set up on the front lawn of city hall. Each flame represents one of the days of Hanukkah 2012, which began Saturday.

Although Newark is no longer the epicenter of New Jersey Jewish life it once was, the city still maintains powerful ties to the community. Newark has hosted a Holocaust remembrance for a quarter-century and Chabad, a Lubavitch center, is based at the Robert Treat Hotel. Jews are still prominent among the city’s business community and actively promote Newark.

Speakers Tuesday praised the city’s multicultural tradition.

“The great thing about this amazing city is its diversity, and we get to celebrate that diversity around this holiday,” said Central Ward Councilman Darrin Sharif.

Speakers also discussed the significance of Hanukkah, a celebration of a miracle tied to the defeat of a powerful Greek army by the Israelites thousands of years ago.  The eight days of Hanukkah represent the amount of time a day’s supply of lamp oil actually lasted when the Jews returned to the temple following the Greek defeat.

For Rabbi Schmuley Boteach -- a close friend of Mayor Cory Booker’s and a prominent speaker and author -- the holiday symbolizes less a wartime victory than a triumph of justice.

Acknowledging America’s military as well as city police and firefighters, Boteach said, “You fight not because you seek glory but because you seek to protect life.”

Also speaking was Booker, a gentile but one who has immersed himself in Jewish teaching. The mayor delivered a d’var torah -- a sermon based on holy writ -- that would not have sounded out of place in your typical neighborhood synagogue.

Drawing on the biblical story of Joseph offering to help two men he meets, Booker said “that one act of kindness set off a powerful chain of events. That one act of kindness led a nation to be saved.”

He likened such biblical good works to the symbol of the blazing menorah and contemporary examples of charity, such as those performed by city residents during Hurricane Sandy in October.

“I stand here to celebrate Hanukkah but also the spirit of Hanukkah....this city was illuminated by acts of kindness.”

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