Alamedans Come Together to Celebrate the Start of Chanukah

 Ben Wiley -- Chabad of Alameda lit a Hanukkah menorah made entirely of cans of food, a Can-Orah, which was then donated to Alameda Food Bank.
Ben Wiley -- Chabad of Alameda lit a Hanukkah menorah made entirely of cans of food, a Can-Orah, which was then donated to Alameda Food Bank.

Alamedans Come Together to Celebrate the Start of Chanukah

For the sixth straight year, the Alameda community came together to celebrate the beginning of Chanukah by attending Chabad of Alameda’s Menorah-Lighting ceremony on Sunday, Dec. 18.

Chabad of Alameda’s Chanukah celebration attracted residents of all ages from Alameda and other cities throughout the Bay Area. The number of people that gathered to celebrate at Rittler Park, 1400 Otis Dr., mirrored last year’s attendance of more than 500 participants. Mayor Marilyn Ezzy Ashcraft and California Attorney General Rob Bonta were among the many who attended and welcomed fellow attendees with holiday greetings.

Rabbi Meir Shmotkin started the Menorah-Lighting event the same year that he started Chabad of Alameda, a Jewish religious, educational and social services organization that strives to “create a warm welcoming environment to explore and experience our heritage in a non-judgmental and inviting atmosphere.” According to Shmotkin, the first large public Menorah outside of Israel was the Billy Graham Memorial, which has been lighting up San Francisco’s Union Square since 1975. Today, there are 1,500 public Menorahs around the world, including in some iconic places like the White House lawn.

This year, Chabad of Alameda decided to do something different and creative. Rather than just lighting a regular Menorah, they asked the community to donate cans to make a “CAN-ORAH” (Menorah made from cans). The can-orah represents the economic hardships many people are experiencing and Chabad of Alameda’s quest to help mitigate the problem.

Mayor Ashcraft lit the first candle on the CAN-ORAH. The cans will be donated to the Alameda Food Bank after Chanukah ends. Rabbi Shmotkin spoke on the reason and message of the CAN-ORAH.

“I think it is apropos for the holiday of Chanukah, which is about helping others and being kind,” said Shmotkin. “The community can come together and create light in a Menorah and then we can take the light and make a difference to one person or many other people."

In addition to the special Menorah lighting, attendees had the chance to make their own Menorahs, play in the inflatable slide and bouncy house and get balloons from a clown. The event also featured a juggling show as well as music, games (dreidels) and food symbolic of Chanukah — latkes and Sufganiyot (Israeli donuts).

Phylls Oscar, who came from San Francisco, enjoyed making her own menorah.

“It’s really fun. I made my own menorah which is out of glass on a tray with bolts,” said Oscar. “Eight for the candles and one for the helper (shamash). I am just so happy that they had this event. It’s the first night of Chanukah and really fun to be around other people Jewish and non-Jewish.”

David Young said he enjoyed watching his daughter have fun making her own menorah. Rachel Beser reflected on the community aspect of this event and how it is bringing people together in the wake of the antisemitism that has recently emerged.

“It’s really nice to be in a safe environment with everything going on in the world with antisemitism,” said Beser. “It’s important that we band together as a community.”

When asked about the rise in antisemitism, Rabbi Shmotkin touched on how Chanukah can help to combat it.

“We don’t chase darkness with brooms and sticks, but with lighting a candle and spreading light,” said Shmotkin

While Sunday was just a celebration of the first night, Chanukah will continue each day until Monday, Dec. 26 as a memory of the oil that miraculously lasted eight days.

Ben Wiley -- There were many activities at this year’s Menorah-Lighting ceremony including a clown show.