Hanukkah: The holiday of Jewish dignity - opinion

The city of Dnipro, Ukraine, has the biggest menorah structure in the world, symbolizing the significance of every menorah: The Jewish people are here, and they are no longer apologetic.

 Rabbi Menachem Gerlitzky (photo credit: Courtesy)
Rabbi Menachem Gerlitzky
(photo credit: Courtesy)

Have you seen the ‘world’s biggest’ Hanukkah menorah?

A quick Google search will reveal many different menorahs competing for that title. And every year there are new additions: made from balloons; light bulbs; kinetic laser; hand-carved ice; mango placed on the roof of a shopping mall, set up on a breakwater by the ocean, each attempting to attain the coveted title.

In my opinion, the contest was over several years ago. This week I merited not only to see the ‘world’s biggest’ Hanukkah menorah but actually to be inside it.

Okay, it’s not really a Hanukkah menorah made of eight candles, but rather a “menorah” with only seven branches, each being a tower. However, the form, the idea and the underlying message are definitely identical:

Over the past few days, I visited the city of Dnipro, Ukraine, where I witnessed the municipal Jewish community center. The magnificent, enormous center is composed of seven lit-up towers, designed in the form of a menorah with seven branches, containing on the premises all the Jewish communities’ institutions, ranging from a shul to a medical clinic; with the obvious name: “The Menora Center”.

 General view of the Menorah Center, st. Sholem Aleichem, 4/26, Dnipro, Dnipropetrovsk region, Ukraine. (credit: Wikimedia Commons) General view of the Menorah Center, st. Sholem Aleichem, 4/26, Dnipro, Dnipropetrovsk region, Ukraine. (credit: Wikimedia Commons)

I expressed my astonishment to the Chabad Emissary in the city, Rabbi Shmuel Kaminetzki, regarding the grandiose expansiveness of the center that he himself envisioned, planned, and constructed. The Rav replied and explained that when he first arrived there in the early ’90s on the instruction of the Lubavitcher Rebbie, he found the remnants of a vibrant, glorious Jewish community broken in spirit after dozens of years of oppression. He immediately understood that the task with utmost priority, even before rebuilding devastated synagogues, before establishing a Jewish educational infrastructure, was to infuse a deep sense of Jewish pride and self-respect within the community.

This had been terribly depleted during the many years of Soviet oppression. To this end, he spared no effort, and with great perseverance established a large, shining, conspicuous by all standards, center, in order to improve the posture of the local residents and grant them the Jewish respect and self-confidence they so deserved. The dynamic Jewish life in the Menora Center proves beyond a doubt that this was indeed accomplished. 

This is the implication of the gigantic “Menora Center” situated in the heart of Dnipro, and this is the directive of each Hanukkah menorah, big or small, set on any windowsill or doorway, iconic landmarks worldwide: the declaration of Jewish self-respect.

To our Jewish brethren: We are here, and we are no longer apologetic.

The days are long gone when we were ashamed of who we are, and we suffered feeling inferior to those around us, towards foreign cultures. When our Jewish identity was seen as a burden, and we tried to assimilate and be like the Greeks or whatever other ruling country we were in.

Times have changed so that we no longer hide our Judaism inside the house and feel uncomfortable expressing our Jewish identity in public.

The holiday of Hanukkah is here to remind us that only a people who insist on preserving their identity, even when they are “few versus many”, “the weak against the mighty”, merit to survive and carry on. Even if it appears that no more oil remains, nor strength to illuminate. The solution is not submitting and assimilation, but stubbornly continuing to guard the “jar of pure oil”. And when this is the approach, the miracle occurs. The small flask continues to burn and shine, against all odds. And if you don’t believe it, go visit “The Menora Center” in Dnipro, and you’ll see….

Wishing you a happy, illuminating, Hanukkah!