More than 100 gather in Elgin to celebrate first night of Hanukkah

Holding candles and gathering around a menorah, more than 100 people came together for the first night of Hanukkah during a celebration Thursday at the Centre of Elgin.

Rabbi Mendel Shemtov, who directs Chabad Jewish Center of Elgin with his wife, Shterna, said they’ve been hosting the public event for 10 years. He was happy to see a larger crowd than usual, given the war between Israel and Hamas.

“I know there are some that are a little nervous, but I know a lot more that not only are not cowering, but are doing things to publicize Hanukkah even more than they usually do and not just Jews,” Shemtov said.

Shemtov gave candles to the crowd outside the Centre before lighting the 9-foot steel menorah.

“The way to deal with darkness is not by hiding, but by lighting another candle — by adding one more light,” he said. “The beauty of fire is that it gives warmth and light to those around you, and it doesn’t diminish the warmth and light you receive from it. On the contrary, the more people there are, the warmer it gets.”

Louise Campagna wore a shirt supporting Israel to the celebration. She wasn’t comfortable saying in which city she lives for fear of retribution. She said she’s attended the celebration most years they’ve held it at the Centre and wasn’t going to miss it this year.

“I’m so thankful I can do it,” she said. “There are people right now who can’t celebrate Hanukkah.”

The event featured a gelt drop, a buffet dinner, arts and crafts and a visit from Dave DiNaso’s Traveling World of Reptiles.

Hanukkah, the Festival of Lights, started at sundown Thursday. The holiday celebrates the victory of the Jewish Maccabees over Syrian-Greeks who had prevented them from practicing their faith more than 2,100 years ago. The Jews reclaimed and rededicated the Holy Temple and, when they lighted the menorah, oil expected to last one day miraculously lasted for eight.

In commemoration, Jews celebrate Hanukkah for eight days by lighting an eight-branched candelabrum known as a menorah.


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