COLUMBUS, Ga. (WRBL) — A small crowd gathered on a section of Broadway in Columbus Wednesday evening to celebrate Chanukah, also spelled Hanukkah. The main part of the event was the lighting of a 12-foot menorah. Attendees were treated to donuts, dreidel cookies, hot latkes and applesauce.
Chayala Markovits is married to Rabbi Chaim Markovits. Together, they run Chabad of Rural Georgia, which holds Jewish events throughout the state.
Chayala gave a welcoming speech, saying the menorah lighting would be the second in Columbus. She said she was from California, whereas her husband is originally from Sydney, Australia.
“And we moved here two and a half years ago to begin this nonprofit of bringing joy and Judaism to communities outside of Atlanta,” she said. “So we travel all over the state.”
Chayala thanked everyone who had made the event possible. She introduced Major Shai, who would lead attendees in a prayer in Hebrew.
“This prayer is specifically for the safety and protection of our brothers and sisters in Israel and all around the world,” Chayala said.
Columbus Mayor Skip Henderson made an appearance at the event.
“As stated, this is the second opportunity we’ve had to celebrate with our community Hanukkah,” he said. “And I think it’s significant that this community recognizes that what gives us our strength is, in fact, our diversity. So thank all of you for being here.”
Henderson read a proclamation officially recognizing Hanukkah.
Chayala explained an alleged miracle celebrated during Hannukah.
“The Greeks came and destroyed our holy temple, and inside, we found this little jug of oil,” she said. “And what was the miracle that the little jug of oil didn’t just last for one day; it lasted two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight days, which is why we celebrate eight days of Hannukah.”
She explained that Hanukkah teaches the people who observe it to self-improve one action at a time.
“Do one good deed for another person, and that will lead to another thing and another thing,” she said. “And slowly, we will light our own personal menorah, bringing light not just to our families, but to the world around us.”
Chaim said it wasn’t long ago that Jews weren’t able to celebrate Hannukah in peace and safety.
“And it’s special that in this kind country, we are able to,” he said. “And so, that’s worth celebrating in and of itself.”
He said the message of the menorah is that each of us is a temple.
“We’re a temple, and in us is the opportunity for a flame,” he said. “In us is the opportunity to light ourselves up and to share that light with others.”
Chaim invited Neil Block, whom he called a friend and leader in the community, to get on a platform to light the menorah. Block had difficulty lighting the middle candle, which Brandon Mefford helped him with.
Chaim had attendees sing blessings. After the menorah was lit, he had audience members join him in singing classic Jewish songs.
He recognized attendees from Fort Benning and thanked them for serving the country.
“If you have a menorah at home and you don’t have candles, so make sure to pick up your candles from the table over there,” he said.
There was a contest to see who could guess the number of dreidels in a dreidel-shaped container. The winner won a $50 Amazon gift card.
In an interview, Chaim said the message of Hanukkah is to “share the goodness that we have.”
“A candle doesn’t lose lights, right?” he said. “A candle doesn’t lose when it gives to another.”
He explained why Chabad of Rural Georgia chose to hold an event in Columbus.
“Columbus is a city with a large Jewish presence,” he said. “There are two temples here … And the Jewish people here deserve to have strong engagement with their Judaism. And we’re all about engagement with what’s yours. Judaism is yours, and you can celebrate it, and you can own it, and you can enjoy it.”