Festival of Lights

Hanukkah traditions light up the night at the Westfield mall

Dec. 27, 2005 


Often in the glare and excess of Christmas lights, the lights glistening from the menorah are overshadowed.

But for the first time ever, they have a place at Westfield Southlake mall, thanks to Chabad of Northwest Indiana.

Tucked away and cordoned off on the mall’s lower level by Carson’s and Lundstrom Jewelers stands a wooden electric menorah, lit by members of the Orthodox Jewish sect Monday night.

Traditionally, the menorah would be powered by either candles or oil, but because of safety rules, mall officials told its leader, Rabbi Eliezer Zalmanov, the menorah would have to be lit with light bulbs.

It might not be a perfect representation, but the mall’s willingness to open its doors to them delighted Zalmanov. “(The menorah) was missed (among the decorations),” Zalmanov said before leading the group in traditional Jewish prayer and song.

“It’s not a secret that Hanukkah is sometimes slighted during the holidays, so having the menorah here promotes Jewish awareness.”

Kosher hot chocolate and doughnuts awaited the revelers after they sang such favorites as “Chanukah, Oh Chanukah” and “I Have a Little Dreidel,” a song about a toy Jewish children play with during the holiday. The toy, a four-sided top adorned with letters that stand for “A great miracle happened there,” was used as a teaching tool.

“During the time of the Greeks, Jewish people weren’t allowed to study the Torah, so they would go into the woods,” Zalmanov explained. “They would study, and when Greek patrols would come by and ask them what they were doing, they would hide their books and instead bring out the tops, telling them they were playing a game.”

With all the talk of Christian meaning getting taken out of Christmas, Zalmanov feels that spreading awareness of Hanukkah is more relevant than ever.

“Hanukkah represents freedom of religion, and spreading light and warmth,” he said. “I think that if we let people practice their own religion, they’re more than happy to let us practice ours.”

Ben Rothenberg, 13, of Indianapolis spent the day with cousins Jake and Alex Chmara, 12-year-old twins, and Jamie Chmara, 7, of Southfield, Mich., and their grandparents at Fair Oaks Dairy before stopping at the mall for the menorah lighting. Ben thought putting the menorah in the mall was a great idea.

“This is a cool get together,” he said. “That way, a lot of people got to see what we’re doing, because there are a lot of people at the mall today.”

Samantha Zacharias, 12 and a student at Schererville’s Forest Ridge Academy, agreed.

“If you’re not Jewish, you’re not necessarily going to understand what Chanulkah’s all about, just like I’m not going to understand what Christmas is all about,” she said. “I think this is really nice.”