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Hanukkah celebration focuses on spreading light against darkness of rising anti-Semitism

Former U.S. Ambassador John Price lights the first candle of a menorah in the state Capitol rotunda to mark the first night of Hanukkah in Salt Lake City Sunday, Dec. 22, 2019.
Former U.S. Ambassador John Price lights the first candle of a menorah in the state Capitol rotunda to mark the first night of Hanukkah in Salt Lake City Sunday, Dec. 22, 2019.
Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — As members of Utah’s Jewish community gathered with people of other faiths Sunday evening during the first night of Hanukkah, they started the celebration with a moment of silence for those who lost their lives in the latest anti-Semitic attack.

The Dec. 10 shooting in New Jersey at a kosher market left three people in the store dead, as well as a police officer. Investigators linked the attackers to a fringe anti-Semitic movement and are treating the shooting as an act of terrorism, the Associated Press reported.

Though Sunday’s event in the packed Capitol rotunda started on a somber note, speakers focused less on darkness and more on the light of faith that can fill it.

“Unfortunately the number of incidences is going up every year right now. And so that’s kind of the darkness we’re talking about. And I think by gathering people together, people of good faith, and acknowledging that this is not the way we need to go, I hope that we can spread some good words that perhaps the light will disperse into the darkness,” Dave Kieda told the Deseret News after the lighting ceremony was over and people began mingling.

Others agreed that such gatherings are a way to remain strong together in the face of rising anti-Semitism.

In his remarks during the ceremony, Gov. Gary Herbert compared the history of Utah, settled by early members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as they fled religious persecution, to that of the Jewish people. He was later invited to light the menorah along with former U.S. Ambassador John Price, whose family fled Nazi Germany.

On the first Sunday of Hanukkah, the first candle in the menorah is kindled — the raised, center one.

“Tonight I think is very important for us, that we can celebrate our holiday at the state Capitol rotunda, with the governor ... lighting the candle shows the tremendous love and tolerance,” Rabbi Avremi Zippel said.

“And it empowers us and reminds us that we can be strong, and free, and proud in our community,” Rabbi Zippel added.

Several other state leaders also attended, including former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr., Rep. Ben McAdams and homeless advocate Pamela Atkinson.

Rabbi Benny Zippel encouraged people at the event to take menorahs and dreidels home and “bring light to a world that so badly needs it.”

The celebration drew a diverse crowd.

Sage Finlinson, there with her friend Julie Moyano, explained “we’re not Jewish, we’re actually LDS, but I’m an anthropology major. And so I’m really interested in learning about different cultures, and I always felt sort of connected to this culture. And I wanted to come and participate, and just hear these stories and meet the people.”

She called the night a “really good experience.”

“I think it’s super important just to understand, know other people’s struggles and trials. And that’s obviously a big part of the Jewish faith, is overcoming adversity. So it’s really cool to gather together and do that,” Finlinson said.

Moyano said she also showed up because of a longtime interest in other cultures and religions. She’s been interested in learning more about Hanukkah since she was a child, she said, “but I finally got to go.”

“We’re stronger in numbers. And so it’s really nice to all gather together,” Moyano said.

Annalise Smith, whose family recently learned they are of Jewish descent, said “I really just wanted to see what it was all about ... Honestly, one of the better religious experiences I had.”

Kieda explained that the yearly event is inclusive of those of different faiths.

In his last 21 years celebrating Hanukkah in Utah, Kieda said, “it’s great to see all the growth. We used to be a small group of people getting together to light candles on Hanukkah, and it’s a good community event. Everybody gets out, and it’s nice to see each other and spend a little time with each other.”

“Everybody’s welcome. It’s a big community, and we’re all celebrating the fact that we’re here. We made it another year, and we’re all here to help each other.”