PEABODY – Neither snow nor rain nor the late fall chill could keep about 30 people from gathering on the lawn in front of City Hall on Monday for a Hanukkah public menorah lighting sponsored by Chabad of Peabody and the city.
City officials and residents gathered around the giant electric menorah for some words from Mayor Ted Bettencourt and words and blessings from Chabad of Peabody’s Rabbi Nechemia Schusterman.
“I think this is awesome,” said Haverhill’s Rosalyn Abrams, president of Congregation Sons of Israel in Peabody, who attended the lighting at noon with her husband, Barry.
“It’s great to see a mayor who is so supportive of this, it’s just a breath of fresh air, you don’t see that very often,” Barry Abrams said.
Bettencourt said he looked forward to the annual menorah lighting as an important tradition for the city which dates back nearly 20 years. The city carried on the tradition in a socially distanced way last year on a similarly cold fall day.
“I know there is great historical significance in terms of the recovery of Jerusalem and the rededication of the temple [by the Maccabees in the 2nd century B.C.],” Bettencourt said, “but to me I think of Hanukkah as a day of brotherhood, a day of sisterhood, of peace, of being together and celebrating what we are all about, and more so than ever, and I’ve been saying this a lot this year, more so than ever we need these moments when we are together and celebrating being as one and celebrating happy moments and happy days.”
Bettencourt acknowledged that it was a cold day, and that it’s always been difficult to find the right time to do it, but that this was an important tradition for him to carry on.
“As long as I’m mayor, we will always have this moment,” Bettencourt said.
Rabbi Schusterman joked he tries to “squeeze” his way out of the tradition “after enough years of sleet and snow and miserable weather, and the mayor told me, ‘Rabbi, absolutely not, not on my watch.’”
The rabbi said he told his wife, Raizel, the co-director of Chabad of Peabody, that he thought the large metal menorah goes back to the days of Mayor Peter Torigian, who was elected mayor of Peabody in 1979 and served 23 years. “And maybe, maybe it’s time to update for a newer and cleaner one that’s not completely being held together by Scotch tape.”
Schusterman shared a quick thought on the meaning of the menorah lights.
In the Talmud, he said, there was a debate among Talmudists Rav and Shmuel about the idea whether they can use the light of one of the existing candles (not the Shamash or center helper candle) to light other lights.
“It’s a whole back and forth, and of course, like everything Jewish, you know, there are two opinions and the answer is ‘yes’ to both of them,” Schusterman said. But the Talmud goes against Shmuel.
“The one who said that you should not share the candlelight is because there is a concern that if you are using it with an oil, which is how it was originally done, you might spill the oil, you might bump into something, and something will get lost as a result of having shared the light,” Schusterman said. “Whereas the other opinion says ‘no,’ you share a light; always good things come from sharing a light.”
“The truth is, you know, when you take a flame and you light another flame, the original flame doesn’t get decreased you just add more and more,” Schusterman said.
“The idea is that … if you share the light with another person, you don’t walk away with less, you just walk away with double,” Schusterman added. He also noted we’ve been through “a rough couple of years.” One of the things that has gotten people through it is “sharing the love and the kindness” and people in the city putting aside their differences.
“So, if there is any takeaway messages before we go to bed tonight, make sure you lit somebody’s fire,” Schusterman said. “Come on, baby, light my fire,” Schusterman quipped to laughs, taking a line from a famous Doors hit. “So, let’s get that fire lit,” Schusterman said.
Other officials on hand included Ward 6 Councilor Mark O’Neill, Ward 3 Councilor-elect Stephanie Peach, School Committee member Jarrod Hochman, former Superintendent Herb Levine, and Democratic State Committee member Julie Curtis of Danvers.