Illuminating community spirit: Crowd gathers in OKC for first night of Hanukkah

December 3, 2018
The triumph of light over darkness and victory over oppression was celebrated Sunday during the 2018 "Bricktown Lights" menorah-lighting ceremony in Oklahoma City. About 400 people gathered at the Chickashaw Bricktown Ballpark Third Base Plaza to help celebrate the first night of Hanukkah. Often called the Jewish Festival of Lights, Hanukkah began at sundown Sunday and continues until sundown Dec. 10. Rabbi Ovadia Goldman, spiritual leader of Chabad Jewish Community Center for Jewish Life and Learning, hosted the event. He said it was the largest crowd to come together for the annual gathering. Goldman was particularly excited about the crowd size because he had urged people to come out for the event in the aftermath of the Pittsburgh synagogue slayings. He said by doing so, people would "double the light" of Hanukkah.
The eight-day holiday commemorates the victory of a band of Jews, the Maccabees, against Greek-Syrian occupiers in 165 B.C. and the re-dedication of their temple. When the Maccabees reclaimed the temple from their oppressors, they wanted to light the eternal light, known as the N'er Tamid, which is in every Jewish house of worship. According to tradition, once lighted, the oil lamp should never be extinguished, but the Maccabees had only enough oil for one day. During Hanukkah, Jewish families celebrate the miracle that the lamp stayed lighted for eight days with the small amount of oil that remained. The most popular symbol of Hanukkah is the menorah, a type of lamp. The anti-Semitic attack that occurred in October in Pittsburgh added poignancy to Sunday's gathering.
"Darkness is not only from abroad but it comes close to home in the form of the erosion of the time-honored values in any decent society," Rochel Goldman said. "Darkness isn't dispelled by brooms and sticks but by just a small amount of light. Double the light, illuminate morality." The highlight of the "Bricktown Lights" gathering was the lighting of a giant menorah. U.S. Sen. James Lankford, R-Oklahoma City, and Oklahoma City Mayor David Holt, did the honors, alongside Rabbi Goldman.
Other highlights included remarks by several politicians and community leaders. Afterward, guests were treated to latkes, the potato pancakes that are traditionally served during Hanukkah, and hot cocoa. In a surprise for the children, members of the Oklahoma City Fire Department climbed up a ladder to toss chocolate coins to the crowd.
Goldman read the names of the 11 people killed at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh in October, along with the names of the first responders who were injured trying to stop a gunman's attack on the house of worship. Roberta Clark, executive director of the Jewish Federation of Greater Oklahoma City, said it was important that the community continue the public menorah-lighting tradition despite the synagogue attack. "Terrorism tries to stop our living life the way we should live life. And I think for all of us it's empowering to say 'No, we're going to be cautious, and we're going to take precautions, but we will live our lives,' " she said.
Lankford said the Hanukkah gathering was a good time to "celebrate not only our diversity but our unity." "We are one nation, indivisible, under God," he said.