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Bringing light to banish darkness: 10th annual Menorah lighting in the Center

At the 10th annual Shelter Island Menorah lighting in the Center on Sunday evening there was up-tempo music, laughter, singing, sufganiyah — the  jelly doughnuts served in Jewish households around the world at Hanukkah — candies, latkes, and a call to resist darkness by bringing light.

Oh, and there was persistent, driving rain and high winds. But not one of the 50 or so people who gathered in front of police headquarters next to the Christmas tree minded the typhoon-like conditions. It seemed nothing could dampen the joy of celebrating the Jewish festival of lights.

Rabbi Berel Lerman of the Center For Jewish Life–Chabad in Sag Harbor presided over the ceremony, as he has for the past 10 years. Riki Lerman, the rabbi’s sister, handed out the sufganiyah, which disappeared quickly, and his grammar school daughters, Miriam and Rivka, handed around sweets.

During Hanukkah, public Menorah lighting ceremonies are held all over the world. The tradition dates to 160 B.C., when Judah the Maccabee led a small army of Jews and successfully defeated the Syrians, reclaiming the temple and relighting the golden Menorah.

According to legend, the Jews had only enough oil for a single day, but the Menorah burned for eight days, and the eight candles on the Menorah are there to remember the power of faith.

Speaking partly about the weather, with Father Peter DeSanctis holding an umbrella over him, Rabbi Lerman declared, “The miracle of Hanukkah 2023 on Shelter Island. We’ve come from near and far, from the South Fork and the North Fork to be here together.”

The power of faith and community always bring comfort and inspiration in dark times, the rabbi said, noting “rising antisemitism, bigotry and hatred,” and referenced the savage attack by Hamas on Israel on Oct. 7 as “atrocities in the Holy Land,” reminding Jewish communities of the Holocaust and pogroms.

“But we’re gathered here to celebrate the power of light, and spirituality, a greater power than darkness,” he said. “The Menorah is a symbol of that power over darkness.”

Rabbi Lerman told the gathering, “Darkness has no power in itself. We all see this when we enter a dark room and turn on a light — darkness vanishes. Together we can dispel the darkness of our time.”

To laughter and a few cheers, he added that “against all odds, with wind and rain, we have prevailed.”

Rabbi Lerman lighting the candles for the festival of lights. (Credit: Susan Schrott)

As he lit the candles with a small propane torch, the gathering sang the lilting Hebrew song, “Maoz Tzur.” Soon, voices filled the air with “The Dreidel Song,” and finally the ceremony was completed with a singing of “Oshe Shalom.”

“Pray for peace, “Rabbi Lerman said. “Shalom!”