First night of Hanukkah unites metro Phoenix communities to 'shed light into dark places'

Dylan Wickman
Arizona Republic
View Comments

Hanukkah started on Thursday, with multiple metro Phoenix cities hosting community events to celebrate the first day of the festival of lights.

About 200 people gathered in Mesa for a menorah lighting. Mayor John Giles emphasized the tragedy of the war in Israel and Palestine and the increase in violence against the Jewish community. He said he hoped Mesa's lighting could be a beacon of hope.

"We all, I think, are somewhat taken back given the events from the past few months with the need for more light in this world and the obvious darkness that is in some places in this world," Giles said.

"I hope that this convening and this celebration of light and this invitation to shed light into dark places on this planet is something I think will be felt here in Mesa, Arizona, and throughout the world," he added.

Downtown Mesa streets were closed for the ceremony, which took place at the Post. There were arts and crafts activities, free food and vendors.

Happy Hanukkah 2023:Where to celebrate the Festival of Lights in Phoenix

Rabbi Laibel Blotner ascended a ladder to light the first of the nine candles while jokingly telling the crowd that they had to light their menorahs as well. The menorah will remain in Mesa for the duration of the holiday until all candles are lit.

Nikki Jenkins attended the event to rediscover the Jewish faith she felt was lost in her childhood. Her father was Jewish, so she learned a bit about the religion when she was young, but her family eventually transitioned to celebrate Christmas.

"This is exciting to me because it reminds me of my childhood," Jenkins said. "That's a whole part of my life that I wanted to know more about. I'd love to go to Israel when the war calms down and learn about the traditions."

She said the event was a celebration of peace and hopes that the same celebration can be felt in Israel.

"I think Jesus wants all people blessed, and I think Jesus loves everyone, and I love everyone," Jenkins said. "I hate that there's a war going on in Israel because I just want the day to come when everyone has peace, and this is a celebration of peace."

'Levels we haven't seen in years':Phoenix's Jewish community boosts security for holidays

Amee Dolan, who was raised Jewish, came to celebrate the holiday with her husband, Tyler Carlson. She said that it is more important than ever to support Jewish people, given the uptick in antisemitic crimes across the country.

"I think that showing that you support the Jewish community is more important than ever despite your personal feelings on what's going with Israel and Palestine because that is separate from supporting everyday Jewish Americans," Dolan said.

She said she felt emotional seeing the crowd who had come out to celebrate.

"You see people supporting people, and that should be the theme of life," Dolan said.

'Standing for light and for goodness'

Another menorah lighting was at Ragsdale-MLK Park, hosted by Downtown Tempe and ASU Chabad. It was the city's second event celebrating Hanukkah, and about 50 people attended. There were outdoor games for kids and free cookies.

ASU Chabad Rabbi Shmuel Tiechtel said it was extremely special to see the support shown for this Jewish community during a time like this.

Tiechtel said it was "heartwarming, uplifting, unifying and illuminating" to see people come together for the menorah lighting.

"It hasn't been an easy time for the Jewish community the last two months, since the war ... but (it's great) seeing the Jewish community and allies of the Jewish community come together in support and showing we're a unifying community standing for light and for goodness," he said.

Hanukkah gifts:Phoenix-area's longest-running Judaica shop offers variety

Tiechtel said seeing the community support others in their beliefs goes a long way.

"We are a community. The greater ASU community, the Tempe community, the Arizona community, and the word community has the word unity," Tiechtel said. "By showing support and reaching out and saying 'I'm here with you, for you,' it does more than you can imagine.

View Comments