Hanukkah took on a special meaning for Jews this year, especially those of the Chabad Lubavitch community.

Judaism’s Festival of Lights is the first holiday since the massacre in November of Rabbi Gavriel Holtzberg, his wife, Rivkah, and seven other Jews inside a Chabad synagogue/ hospitality center in Mumbai, India.

Chabad of Eastern Connecticut dedicated a 15-foot menorah, or festival candlestick, to the fallen members of its movement. The menorah was lit for the first night of the festival Sunday. Hanukkah lasts for eight days.

“They were an unbelievable couple,” Rabbi Avrohom Sternberg, Chabad of Eastern Connecticut’s spiritual leader, said of the slain rabbi and his wife. Sternberg lit the memorial menorah in a ceremony at the New London Holiday Inn. The theme of light was very much on his mind.

“We must transform our tragedy into something positive,” he said. “Every time there’s a darkness we must counter it with more light.”

Light is a metaphor for doing good deeds, said Sternberg, who hosted a party for 80 people after the poignant outdoor ceremony.

The nation’s struggling economy presents another chance to reflect on Hanukkah’s meaning, said Rabbi Jeremy Booty of Norwich’s Congregation Brothers of Joseph. He views the festival as celebrating the victory of spirituality over materialism. Also, Jews in the time of the first Hanukkah not only had to fight a military battle but had to overcome corrupt cultural trends known as Hellenism, he pointed out.

“Hanukkah is an opportunity to let our spiritual side emerge,” Booty said.

Booty’s congregation will celebrate the festival at 4 p.m. this coming Sunday after canceling a party and menorah ceremony due to inclement weather this past Sunday.

A pre-Hanukkah party on Saturday at Beth Jacob Synagogue in Norwich proved to be well-timed in relation to the weather.

“We hit it just right,” said Rabbi Charles Arian, the congregation’s spiritual leader.

Weather cut into attendance somewhat. Plans were made to accommodate 75 to 80 while about 60 actually came, the rabbi reported. But spirits were high.

“It was a nice time,” Arian said.

Weather forced cancellation of a party at Congregation B’nai Shalom in Danielson/Putnam. The celebration has been rescheduled for 7 p.m. Friday at the group’s Danielson building, said Alan Turner, the synagogue’s lay leader.

A Sunday celebration by local Hebrew schools at Temple Emanu-el in Waterford also was canceled, as was a latke, or potato pancake, dinner organized by the synagogue’s brotherhood. Rich Pascal, Temple Emanu-el’s president, said both events will be rescheduled for some time before Hanukkah ends.

By James Mosher

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