At 6 p.m. Sunday a New Canaan tradition will continue, as families of all denominations as well as town dignitaries and clergy from the area will gather to celebrate Hanukkah atop God’s Acre with the annual lighting of the menorah.
The first light of the menorah will shine Sunday evening to signify the start of the holiday, with another light to shine each night until the eighth light, representing the miracle of Hanukkah in which a small amount of oil burned for eight days and nights, helping a small band of Jews defeat the oppression of the Syrian Greeks in Israel.
“Hanukkah is in many ways a celebration of religious freedom,” Rabbi Levi Mendelow of Chabad New Canaan said. “I think that here in America and in New Canaan, celebrating Hanukkah is an incredible thing because it is a place of incredible religious freedom. And the fact that the Jewish people are able to celebrate openly and happily in a community that welcomes it is really a very special thing and very meaningful.”
Members of the New Canaan Jewish Group started the ceremony here nearly 20 years ago after a previous attempt at facilitating the menorah lighting was aborted by a different organization. Current organizer Marty Reiss—a 30-year New Canaan resident—remembers one individual who was instrumental in reviving the ceremony and helping it grow and flourish.
“Bev Greenberg started it,” Reiss told NewCanaanite.com. “When Bev started it the first year, she asked people to help. They needed people to put up the menorah and take care of it and I volunteered. I got into it and it was basically Bev and I doing it, and now we have John Levine and his family. We got our kids to help too.”
As with many startups, not everything went smoothly out of the gate. According to Reiss, one major challenge with the annual menorah lighting was the menorah itself.
“Somebody made a menorah out of PVC pipe,” Reiss said. “I fixed the original PVC one many times, because PVC is not supposed to be out in the open. It lasted for about ten years. Then we got donations from a couple of people—including myself and Bev—and we bought a pre-built menorah made of aluminum and it will last.”
Also expected to last is the ceremony itself. Reiss believes this is due to the fact that the menorah lighting is a festive celebration that appeals to all residents—Jewish and non-Jewish alike. What started as just a handful of people has evolved into a joyous gathering of more than 100 residents, including First Selectman Rob Mallozzi, singing songs and reciting prayers along with Rabbi Mark Lipson and Cantor Shiva Sklar of Temple Shalom of Norwalk.
In addition to the menorah lighting, there will be a Hanukkah “Pop-up Party” at 106 Main St. on Sunday night. And on Dec. 13 there will be a family Hanukkah party at the YMCA.
“The amazing thing in this town is how the community comes together to take care of each other,” Mendelow said. “The fact that the YMCA opens up their building for a Hanukkah party, that business owners are coming together for a Hanukkah party—it’s really nice how the community comes together to celebrate all different people in the community.”
Something sorely missing from this year’s celebration will be the presence of Bev Greenberg. Nicknamed “The Menorah Lady” by her friends and peers in the New Canaan Jewish Group, Greenberg passed away earlier this year at 92. Her legacy, however, will continue to thrive as a wood bench has been dedicated in her honor, right next to the menorah that will shine across God’s Acre for this and many future holiday seasons.