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Rabbi urges Utahns to dispel darkness through Hanukkah light

SALT LAKE CITY — While reminding members of his congregation that “the simplest and most direct way to dispel darkness is to add light,” Rabbi Benny Zippel of Chabad Lubavitch of Utah lit a large menorah candelabra Sunday evening at Salt Lake City’s downtown Gallivan Center as part of the eight-day Jewish celebration of Hanukkah.

“The soul of man is like the candle of God,” Rabbi Zippel told some 300 listeners who had gathered for Chabad Lubavitch’s annual Chanukah on Ice celebration, that included ice-skating on the Gallivan Center rink, the menorah lighting ceremony and traditional foods including jelly doughnuts and potato latkes.

“No matter what position the candle is in, the flame points upward,” the rabbi observed. “We all have that in common. No matter where we are or who we are, our souls point upward to God.”

Hanukkah, which is also appropriately spelled “Chanukah," is known as the traditional Jewish festival of light. This year, it occurs during the American holiday of Thanksgiving, which Rabbi Zippel said has much in common with Hanukkah.

“Both are focused on giving thanks and gratitude to God,” he said.

That is especially true in light of what Rabbi Zippel called the “brutal vandalizing” of a large Hanukkah menorah that was placed outside the Chabad Lubavitch facility on 1100 East in Salt Lake City early Sunday morning.

“How do we respond to insensitivity and bigotry?” he asked. “We respond with increasing happiness and joy amongst ourselves. We respond with increased love. We respond with increasing charitable acts of random kindness.”

He urged his listeners to perform “one more mitzvah (act of human kindness), one more good deed” during the last few days of Hanukkah.

“We never like to dwell on the negative,” Rabbi Zippel said during an interview earlier in the evening. “The entire message of Hanukkah is that a bit of light has the power to dispel darkness. We’re not going to let an event like this darken our celebration of the festival of light.

“We’re here to have fun,” he continued, as ice skaters of various ages and varying levels of skill slid across the Gallivan Center ice to the musical accompaniment of the Desert Wind four-piece band and its lively arrangements of traditional Jewish songs. “Judaism is something that is supposed to be lived positively. It is a celebration of life and joy and spirit.”

That positive spirit was clearly evident as Rabbi Zippel lit the fifth Hanukkah candle on the 21-year-old menorah (Sunday was the fifth day of Hanukkah this year) and led the singing of traditional Hanukkah songs.

"Chanukah, oh Chanukah, come light the menorah

Let’s have a party, we’ll all dance the Horah.

Gather ‘round the table, we’ll give you a treat,

Dreidel to play with and latkes to eat."

Before surrounding a table loaded with fried foods (Hanukkah treats tend to be fried in oil, symbolic of the ancient menorah lamps that miraculously burned for eight days despite having only a one-day supply of oil), Rabbi Zippel led the singing of “Shalom Aleichem” (“peace be upon you”) and reminded those in attendance that “there is nothing in this entire world that is more powerful than peace.”

The Chabad Lubavitch Chanukah Celebration will continue Monday, the sixth night of Hanukkah, with a menorah lighting ceremony in the ballroom of the Governor’s Mansion on South Temple. Rabbi Zippel said these public lighting ceremonies are intended to uplift the Jewish identity of children and families through the state of Utah, and to “share the Hanukkah light” with as many people as possible.

“The eternal message of the menorah lights has particular significance in light of current world events, which remind us that the forces of oppression and darkness are still present,” he said. “Hanukkah reminds us that a little light can defeat an empire of darkness, human goodness can defy terror and brute force, and life and spiritual vitality and overcome destruction.”