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Celebrating Festival of Lights

For the third night of Chanukah, Chabad Lubavitch congregation of Alexandria brought the holiday outdoors with a giant Menorah, a tale of ancient heroes and some potato latkes.

People came from throughout Northern Virginia to the Dec. 1 celebration in the 1200 block of King Street. After lighting the candles on the outsized menorah, Rabbi Mordechai Newman talked about the meaning and the history of the Festival of Lights.

“I have been coming to these celebrations for about 10 years,” said Ron Hunter. “Rabbi Newman is very welcoming of everyone. There are many children here and they are always welcome; they are a part of the celebration.”

At their home, Hunter and his family celebrated Chanukah that night as well, with each of his four children lighting their own menorahs.

There’s a specific meaning behind all of the Chanukah traditions, Newman said, a meaning more than two millennia old, but still relevant today.

“The celebration of Chanukah is when we celebrate the triumph of freedom over oppression, spirit over matter and good over evil,” he said. “Every night when we light the candles, there is a special message that they tell us: Every night of Chanukah, we only light one candle and that is to teach us the importance of every person – to teach us that each of us is important.”

It’s also a celebration of belief in what’s right over physical might, he said, a commemoration of the victory the outnumbered Jewish people won over the fierce Syrian army.

“We have to listen to the message of the candles,” Newman said.

CHANUKAH MARKS EVENTS 2,100 years past, in the Holy Land. The Syrian tyrant Antiochus, then ruler of Israel, tried to eradicate the Jewish religion, their God and their customs.

Some complied, but Judah Maccabee and his four brothers refused and raised an army to resist Antiochus and his troops. After three years of fighting, the Maccabees were successful in driving the Syrians out of Israel and reclaimed the Temple in Jerusalem.

When Judah and his followers finished cleaning the temple, they wanted to light the N'er Tamid, the ever-burning lamp present in every Jewish house of worship. Once lit, the oil lamp should never be extinguished.

However, only a tiny jug of oil was found in the temple, enough to last for a single day. The oil lamp was filled and lit, but miraculously lasted until the Maccabees were able to find more oil, eight days later.

The Festival of the Lights, Chanukah, lasts for eight days to commemorate the miracle of the oil.

PEOPLE HAD MANY reasons for coming to an outdoor celebration on one of the coldest nights of the year.

Ellen Cohen came to Alexandria from New Orleans. “I was introduced to Chabad in New Orleans,” she said. “I am very glad that they are holding events like this here in Alexandria.”

For Cohen, Chanukah means exchanging gifts and celebrating with family and friends. “Little gifts,” she said, like the bags of Chanukah gelt, chocolate shaped like coins and wrapped in gold and silver foil, given to children throughout the holidays.

David Ratner came with Cohen. “I was going to go to Fort Belvoir, but decided to come here,” he said. “This is an opportunity to celebrate with friends and to participate in a Chabad event.”

Misty Hoecker, from Mt. Vernon, brought her two-year-old daughter, Madison, to the Chanukah celebration. “I wanted to expose Madison to this,” she said. “I wanted her to see Chanukah someplace other than just in our home.”

After the lighting of the Menorah, everyone went into J. and J. Oriental Rugs for latkes. Rabbi Newman explained the significance of the latke in the celebration of Chanukah.

“Latkes are made in olive oil,” he said. “During Chanukah, we try to eat foods that have lots of oil because the oil lasted for eight nights in the temple in Jerusalem.”