NORTH ADAMS — A first ever public menorah downtown helped the Berkshires light the way for the first night of Hanukkah.
A small, enthusiastic crowd gathered at Dr. Arthur Rosenthal Square just after sundown on Sunday to illuminate the Jewish symbol for the Festival of Lights. The menorah is placed in front of the Christmas tree already shining bright for the holiday season.
"This menorah stands as a symbol of light in a time of darkness," declared Rabbi Rachel Barenblat of Congregation Beth Israel.
The middle light, or shamash, was turned on first as it represents the candle used to light the other eight of a traditional menorah; then the first bulb was lit to begin Hanukkah.
"I'm really moved by it in these dark times with a rise in anti-Semitism," Christina Kelly, president of the Beth Israel synagogue told an Eagle reporter. "We need to bring more light into our lives."
Throughout the county, Jewish households as well as public gatherings lit menorahs to brighten the night.
In Lenox, Rabbi Levi and Sara Volovik of Chabad of the Berkshires led the lighting of a nine-foot menorah at the Gateways Inn in downtown Lenox.
A communitywide celebration of music, dance and food followed the ceremony.
"The nature of light is that it is always victorious over darkness," said Rabbi Levi Volovik in prepared remarks prior to the ceremony. "Another act of goodness and kindness, another act of light, can make all the difference."
A relatively minor Jewish holiday compared to others, Hanukkah's importance has grown in America in an effort to be all-inclusive of other non-Christian holidays celebrated around Christmastime.
"I want my kids to grow up with pride in their Jewish heritage and a feeling of equality and self-confidence as Americans," said Sara Volovik.
Hanukkah marks the victory of the Maccabee brothers' rebel army over Greek King Antiochus IV during the 2nd century B.C. The military triumph is associated with the miracle at the rededicated Second Temple, where a small quantity of oil lasted for eight days; hence, Hanukkah is an eight-day observance, ending this year on sundown Sunday.
A public menorah in North Adams was not only a historic first for the city, but a long-overdue gesture of friendship to the local Jewish community, indicated Paul Marino, a city historian. He recalled how early in the 20th century Jews were outcasts in the Steeple City. Yet in 1929, it was Beth Israel, then called United House of Israel, was the only house of worship in North Adams that offered it's synagogue for prayer services to the congregants of the Methodist church destroyed by fire.
"This menorah says you are our neighbors; you are our friends," Marinao said.
Dick Lindsay can be reached at email@example.com and 413-496-6233