PEABODY – Not even a pandemic or a brisk, cold wind could deter Peabody from holding its annual menorah lighting at noon on Thursday, Dec. 10, in what was the first of a series of public lightings held by Chabad of the North Shore across the region.
With the first night of Hanukkah to start that day, city officials including Mayor Ted Bettencourt, City Hall staff, and a few residents gathered on the lawn of City Hall for a small, social distanced lighting of a large hanukkiah with Chabad of Peabody’s spiritual leader, Rabbi Nechemia Schusterman.
“Certainly, the world has changed quite a bit over the last several months,” said Bettencourt, “but I think more important than ever we need to have our traditions and our moments to come together and celebrate.” Bettencourt said the tradition of lighting the menorah at City Hall started with Schusterman.
“We’ve always done a ceremony and it’s always been an important part of it,” Bettencourt said of the importance having the menorah in front of City Hall
Bettencourt said Hanukkah is a time to bring people together to celebrate and be part of the community, “and that is what we all need at this particular time, certainly, more than ever.”
Schusterman said tradition of lighting the menorah at City Hall goes back about 16 to 17 years and “a couple of mayors ago.”
One year it was so rainy, Schusterman said, he suggested canceling the ceremony, but the mayor was undeterred, so the ceremony moved up to the City Hall steps.
“The mayor taught me a very powerful lesson, that we don’t let situations get in the way of good things that are going to happen,” Schusterman said. “Now, none of us could have forecasted what 2020 was going to be like … but, as the mayor says, if ever we needed light more than before, it is now. That is for certain.”
Schusterman touched on the debate among Talmudic sages as to whether to light the menorah’s candles in ascending or descending order, but the conclusion was to start with one candle and increase by one on each night of the eight-day holiday.
“If you don’t keep on increasing, you are decreasing. Now, that’s a nice Talmudic debate, but this is the year where we are going to see how it works. In other words, if you are not increasing, you know, COVID has taught us that you have to keep on upping your game,” Schusterman said. He said when the mayor signed up to be mayor, he did not know if he or others banked on a year like 2020.
“We’ve all had to up our game, and you know what, we did it, we do it, because that’s what we do to survive,” Schusterman said, before Bettencourt flipped the switch on the large electric menorah, that swayed in the breeze while the rabbi sang the blessings.
Officials in attendance included School Committee member Jarrod Hochman, Ward 2 Councilor Peter McGinn, Ward 6 Councilor Mark O’Neill, School Committee Vice Chairperson Beverley Griffin Dunne, Superintendent Josh Vadala, City Council President Tom Rossignoll and Ward 4 Councilor Edward Charest holding his new puppy, Rosie.
In Salem, at 7 p.m. on Dec. 12, heavy rain forced the virtual menorah lighting ceremony indoors to the City Hall Annex at 98 Washington St., instead of the nearby Lappin Park. Among those in attendance for the third night of Hanukkah included Salem Mayor Kim Driscoll, Chabad of the North Shore’s Rabbi Yossi Lipsker, state Rep. Paul Tucker, D-Salem, Ward 5 City Councilor Josh Turiel and acting Salem police Chief Dennis King. Also, on hand was Rabbi Sruli Baron of Tobin Bridge Chabad and Salem Special Projects Coordinator Ellen Talkowsky.
“It’s hard to keep us away from lighting our menorahs,” said Lipsker in a video of the lighting posted on Facebook. “This is a Salem tradition and we are so thrilled that we are able to get together. Socially distant doesn’t mean that we have to be emotionally distant.”
Driscoll said the tradition of lighting the menorah in Salem would not be deterred, either by a pandemic or a rainy Saturday evening.
Driscoll thanked Lipsker for reminding them that with Hanukkah, “even when it can be pretty dark outside, or what’s happening in our world right now, that this is a holiday that inspires us.”
Tucker said Hanukkah could not have come at a better time.
“So many people feel they are in darkness, and to our brothers and sisters in the Jewish faith, we say uplift and be joyous,” said Tucker. At the end of the service, Lipsker said, “Next year, we are going to fill the Square. We are going to have a 20-foot menorah and we are going to up in a cherry picker.
Earlier that evening, Baron presided over the Danvers virtual menorah lighting at 6 p.m. held outdoors on the dark, rainy night at the library pavilion, according to a video posted to Facebook.
“This is what we are doing, every night of Hanukkah, we are out here, bringing light into the world,” Baron said.
Dutrochet “Dee” Djoko, chairperson of the Danvers Human Rights and Inclusion Committee, thanked Chabad for continuing the menorah lighting tradition despite the pandemic and the bad weather.
“There is a lot to celebrate about Hanukkah for everyone, regardless if you are Jewish, or Christian. The joy that the light brings in the darkness is a good thing for everyone.” Djoko said.