SOUTH ORANGE, NJ — The public menorah lighting the eighth and final night of Hannukah felt as much somber vigil against violence as spirited community holiday celebration. Some 80 people stood shoulder to shoulder in rainy, cold Spiotta Park to let light into what has been a dark week: Every day of Hannukah this year, anti-Semitic attacks have been noted in the news in the New York/New Jersey area.

South Orange Village President Sheena Collum noted that as such in her opening remarks: “When I put out a post encouraging people to attend” the Dec. 29 event, she said, “it wasn’t just about bringing people together of the Jewish faith, it’s that people who are not Jewish need to be present, they need to show up. They need to stand hand in hand with our family and our friends in the Jewish community when these attacks, which are continuous, are going on. And we send that message to people who want to try and divide us.”

Rabbi Mark Cooper of Congregation Oheb Shalom said that when the question came up of postponing or cancelling due to rain, “Voices came through and said there is no time more than this one that we need to be present.” 

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Rabbi Dan Cohen of Temple Shaarey-Tefilo Israel continued the thought: “It can be easy to despair as we witness the rise of hate and violence and injustice around us. But the festival of Hannukah implores us to act even if we do not know if our actions will succeed. Hannukah urges us not to get stuck in hopelessness.”

Coffee and doughnuts — a traditional Hannukah food as they are fried in oil and therefore a reminder of the one day’s worth of oil in the lamp of the rededicated Temple in Jerusalem which lasted eight nights — were served and enjoyed by children and adults alike.

Kelly Quirk of Maplewood, a trustee of Community Coalition on Race and SOMA Action, said she came to the event to “stand in solidarity with our Jewish neighbors… It’s really important that we be present and that they know they have the support of the rest of the community.” Anita Gundanna of South Orange, also a trustee of SOMA Action, said she felt the same way, and added, “I love this town and want to support my Jewish neighbors.”

Local real estate agent Amy Paternite noticed and appreciated the sentiment. “It was really nice to see such a diverse group of people attending the menorah lighting tonight and hear our Village President Sheena Collum speak so eloquently.” The South Orange resident said current events entered her mind when she noticed the police presence watching over the event. “You always wonder when there’s a group of Jews together outside, you know, is it risky?”