Menorah lighting downtown brightens holiday spirits

Mike Lauterborn 

Lighting the first candle of the 9-foot-tall menorah on Sherman Green Saturday night was not only a public celebration of the start of Hanukkah, but also a sign of unity among people of different religious faiths this holiday season.

The event, led by Rabbi Shlame Landa of Chabad of Fairfield, was the fourth held at the downtown gazebo. It was attended by dozens of families, town officials and clergy, and was part of a global effort to bring the celebration of Jewish life to public places, according to a Chabad statement.

The ceremony, marking the start of the eight-day Festival of Lights, also featured holiday music, hot latkes, doughnuts and a raffle.

"I always love to come out here to celebrate Hannukah with the public and mark the miracle of lights," Landa said. "The miracle is how a small band of Jews in Israel battled religious oppression and achieved religious freedom for the entire Jewish nation. Here in America, we appreciate the freedom we have to pursue all faiths and celebrate that here tonight."

Landa said the menorah lighting ceremony is emerging as a tradition of Fairfield's holiday season. "I get questions starting in July about the lighting," he said. "That indicates to me that this has become a town tradition and kickoff to many people's Hanukkah celebrations. Many non-Jews come to mark this with us, which is wonderful and an example of the type of community in which we live."

First Selectman Michael Tetreau, fresh from attending a service at a local Episcopalian church, was among the officials attending the event. "What's great about this, especially coming out of (Hurricane) Sandy and seeing the community come together — residents, employees, volunteers — is this rededication to sharing and helping each other in the spirit of Hanukkah. This all works toward building the bond of our neighborhoods and making a better Fairfield."

After Landa and Tetreau addressed the gathering, the first candle of the menorah was lit and local businessman Joe Macy joined the pair to offer a blessing. The menorah's simple flame was a singular presence among the sparkle of Christmas wreaths and lights decorating businesses around the green.

Fairfielder Jay Dimand, who attended the menorah lighting with his two boys, said, "We think this is a nice thing to do, to celebrate in a public way and with the community. Fairfield is very diverse; it embraces difference. We had an incident a few years ago (a protest by several white supremacists), but that was really an exception and isolated, and conducted by outsiders."

Asked how he and his family would mark the first night of Hanukkah, Dimand said, "We'll go home and light our own menorah, and enjoy latkes and doughnuts fried in oil. The oil will remind us of the Biblical miracle of how the Maccabees' one-day supply of lamp oil lasted for eight days."