The weather was cool but not uncomfortable on Sunday evening, Dec. 22, the first night of Hanukkah, the beginning of the eight-day Jewish Festival of Lights.
A crowd of about 50 residents, including local officials and even Santa gathered in Lewis Park as business owner Moshe Schwartzberg began officiating at the Menorah lighting of the first candle, a ceremony he has conducted for the past quarter century.
Schwartzberg began the ceremony by telling the story of how the Temple of Jerusalem was built and then how it was about to be rededicated following its recapture after occupation and defilement by the pagan Syrian-Greeks under Antiochus IV.
A small band of fighters, led by Judah Maccabee, he explained, fought to preserve the Jewish religion and culture and their right to worship God.
Although greatly outnumbered by a much larger and more professional army they recaptured the Holy Temple, which had been defiled with idol worship and pagan sacrifices.
When the Maccabees sought to rededicate the temple, however, they found only one small cruse of oil to kindle the eternal light.
Miraculously, he explained, because God was pleased with what they had accomplished, the oil lasted for eight days. And that provided enough time for the holy oil to be replenished.
Schwartzberg also explained the origin of the shamas, the ninth candle used to light the others.
But before lighting the first candle he read the sacred prayers, first in English so that everyone would understand, and then in Hebrew, according to the tradition of the ceremony.
“Blessed are you Hashem our God King of the universe,” Schwartzberg read aloud, “who has kept us alive, sustained us and brought us to this season . . .”
And then he repeated in Hebrew, “Baruch ata Adonai ....”
He also suggested that there was another miracle this year because during the recent ice storm a fallen tree had narrowly missed the beautiful Menorah in Lewis Park.
“If it had hit that wooden structure,” said Schwartzberg, “it would have been a disaster.”
Visitors were also treated to refreshments including traditional latkes prepared by Wolfies of Warwick restaurant, a business Schwartzberg owns along with Forever Jewelers.
Although not exactly a Hanukkah tradition, the crowd, especially the children, appeared to enjoy the surprise visit by Santa. And pointing to the Crèche and Menorah sitting side by side, Schwartzberg repeated his frequent comment, “The empty space is for the atheists.”