With the first candle on the Menorah illuminating the Bakersfield marketplace Sunday night, the Jewish festival of Lights began.
“It’s so wonderful that we can, as the Rabbi said, invite the community to spirituality, which is the core foundation of who we are,” City of Bakersfield’s Mayor Karen Goh said.
The word Chanukah in Hebrew means “dedication,” according to the Chabad. The holiday is true to its name: a celebration of the rededication of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem in the second century B.C. after, the holy land had been overtaken by the Greeks.
Once the Jewish fighters under Judah the Macabee defeated, according to the Chabad, one of the mightiest armies on earth at the time, they found that there was one pitcher of olive oil left to light the Menorah.
"They had sent people to make more oil, and they had to go to the groves. They found it was still lit eight days, until they received the new oil,” Director of the Chabad of Bakersfield, Esther Schlanger said. “So we're celebrating the miracle of the lights, the miracle of our freedom, of our religious freedom, [and] of being able to practice our faith."
During the pandemic and the accompanying events of the past 20 months, the public Menorah lighting the Chabad of Bakersfield has hosted for almost 20 years (but was held in the form of a drive-thru last year), had just as much relevance Sunday night as the lighting of the menorah all those years ago.
“When you have a dark room, and you light up a candle, it lights up the room, that one little tiny flame. So when you see the menorah in the dark, that little flame, it has that same concept that one little good deed, one little act of kindness, can light up the world.”
Only two candles were glowed Sunday night: one to signify the first night of Chanukah, the other a helper candle to light the others during the other seven days of the festival.
“The Menorah represents light Light and miracles that have happened and happening every day in our lives,” Bakersfield resident Dror Ben Amy said. “We just have to open up our eyes and see them.”
Ben Amy is the CEO of non profit organization, Alma the Lighthouse. To him, what the Menorah represents, especially in today’s society, goes beyond the eight days of Chanukah.
“It’s not just COVID, but what’s going around us daily: homelessness and mental illness.
What we are doing day in and day out is helping those people,” Ben Amy said. “Basically, light the lighthouse, light the menorah: providing light to people so they can find their way.”
Light and faith as a whole even helped Bakersfield resident Adison Gartenlaub and her family find their way after battling COVID-19 last year.
Now all of them are healthy, and she said it means the world to be able to come to the Menorah lighting after missing the drive-thru version last year.
“I think religion is one of the big things that helped us: being able to look to God, having the support there really comforted us.”