Valley cities light menorahs and shine a light on antisemitism

By Carl Zebrowski
Editor of Hakol

Rabbi Yaacov Halperin made his annual Chanukah tour of the three cities of the Lehigh Valley on December 19 to 21 to light giant menorahs while highlighting the cities’ recent official proclamations against antisemitism.

He began in Bethlehem on the chilly evening of December 19, ascending in a fire truck bucket with Mayor William J. Reynolds to light a menorah in Payrow Plaza. Some 75 people gathered for this first of the lightings organized by Rabbi Halperin of Chabad of the Lehigh Valley.

At a time when antisemitism is rising in America, and just days after four people at Bethlehem’s Christkindlmarkt were spreading antisemitic beliefs, Mayor Reynolds read Bethlehem’s proclamation against antisemitism. “When I look around today,” he offered the crowd as a preamble to the official document, “I
see a lot of people who are out here because they want to stand up and they want to be a part of this as we make no mistake about what type of community we want to live in. No matter what your faith is, no matter how long you’ve been here, no matter who you’ve decided to pray to or not, we will value you and we
will not allow people to make anybody feel like they have less worth than others.”

The next night, Rabbi Halperin’s car, with its light-up menorah attached to the roof, was parked along the circle in the center of Easton. Halperin
himself was being helped by another fire truck to light another giant menorah.

Mayor Salvatore J. Panto Jr. thanked the crowd for turning out for what was the 18th or 19th year for the menorah lighting in Easton. “It’s really
great to celebrate our ethnic diversity and also our religious diversity,” he said.

When Rabbi Halperin came down, he stepped onto a stage next to the Big Easy Easton Brass band. He told the story of Chanukah, a holiday that celebrates the Jewish military victory during the Second Temple era, he said. “The way we celebrate is not about the military victory,” he explained, “but about what took
place afterwards, when the Jewish people entered the temple and found a little jar of olive oil, enough fuel to light the menorah for one night. It miraculously lasted eight days....

“The beautiful message of Chanukah is two things: doing something today is not enough — tomorrow we need to do more; and, as the menorah symbolizes, a little bit of light pushes away a lot of darkness.

“The way we overcome antisemitism is not by fighting back, but just by being positive, by adding more light and more light and more light. It’s not just
by lighting a candle. ‘More light’ can mean being a bright light to your neighbor or your friend.”

The brass band then played Jewish songs, lending energy and festiveness to the occasion. Some teenage boys who were running the event with Rabbi Halperin danced in a group, to the crowd’s approval.

The last night of Rabbi Halperin’s three city menorah lightings was in Allentown on December 21 before a Lehigh Valley Phantoms hockey game versus its rival Hershey Bears. Minutes before the opening faceoff, rink workers wheeled a large menorah made of ice onto the playing surface. Rabbi Halperin stepped up onto to a small platform to reach the “candles” with a handheld blowtorch.

He said a few words, and his son sang a song in Hebrew before the rink workers hustled the menorah off the ice so the game could begin.