A celebration on the Augusta Common began Tuesday night with a resounding, “Happy Hanukkah, y’all.”
More than 100 gathered to greet a parade of cars, minivans and monster trucks with roof-top menorahs and Happy Hanukkah signs on what was the fourth night of Hanukkah.
A professional pyrotechnic crew demonstrated fire breathing, fire juggling and fire hoola hooping as parents stood by reminding their children not to try similar feats at home.
Judi Estroff, a longtime member of Chabad of Augusta, which hosted the free event, set out hundreds of potato latkes and applesauce.
The latkes, fried in oil, “celebrate the miracle of the oil.” Plus, Estroff said with a laugh, “they’re delicious.”
The Talmud records the origins of the eight-day Festival of Lights. Nearly 2,200 years ago, a small band of Jewish soldiers defeated the occupying Syrian-Greek army and reclaimed the desecrated temple in Jerusalem.
Upon rededicating the temple, “The Maccabees found a single jar of sacred oil from which they were able to relight the menorah, the great beacon of religious freedom that stood in the temple,” said Rabbi Zalman Fischer. “Miraculously the light lasted eight days and that became the central theme of Hanukkah. It became a festival of light within the Jewish home, symbolizing a faith that could not be extinguished.”
Fischer lit four candles on a giant, 7-foot-tall menorah on the common. Toys were collected for children at Medical College of Georgia Hospital while two-dozen children sang songs like Oh Chanukah and I’m a Jug of Oil, sung to the tune of I’m a Little Teapot.
“This event always brings people out,” Estroff said. “We’re glad to see new faces every year. Chabad is about outreach.”
Fischer says the story of Hanukkah is not just a Jewish story but one with a universal theme.
“What endured was not the Maccabees military victory, but the simpler, stronger story of the small flame that survived the wreckage and desecration, and the light it shed that kept on burning,” he said.
It is this “flame in each of us that helps us to survive even the worst of tragedies, allowing us to rebuild shattered lives, broken institutions and injured nations,” he said. “That, to me, is the essential Jewish story.”