Park lights: Community celebrates first night of Hanukkah together in downtown Oklahoma City

·4 min read
Oklahoma City Mayor David Holt lights a candle Sunday on the giant menorah during "Scissortail Lights," a community Hanukkah event at Scissortail Park's Love's Travel Stops Stage and Great Lawn in downtown Oklahoma City.
Oklahoma City Mayor David Holt lights a candle Sunday on the giant menorah during "Scissortail Lights," a community Hanukkah event at Scissortail Park's Love's Travel Stops Stage and Great Lawn in downtown Oklahoma City.

It was Rabbi Ovadia Goldman's dream come true.

Lots of sunshine, almost balmy weather for a November evening in Oklahoma and a large crowd showed up to celebrate the first night of Hanukkah together on Sunday in downtown Oklahoma City.

The 2021 Scissortail Lights event hosted by Chabad Community Center for Jewish Life and Learning included the lighting of a giant menorah, prayers, music by Kyle Dillingham and Horseshoe Road, and Hanukkah treats at the Love's Travel Stops Stage and Great Lawn at Scissortail Park. Hanukkah began at sundown Sunday.

The recent festivities stood in stark contrast to the 2020 Hanukkah festivities.

Goldman, Chabad-OKC's spiritual leader, remembered ushering in the 2020 holiday with a small group of people who braved snow, ice, frigid temperatures and COVID-19 concerns to celebrate in person at the downtown Oklahoma City park. Most people watched the activities via livestream.

More: 'Hanukkah Homecoming' in OKC

Mendel Levertov and Rabbi Ovadia Goldman, spiritual leader of Chabad Community Center for Jewish Life and Learning, celebrate the first night of Hanukkah during "Scissortail Lights" on Sunday in downtown Oklahoma City.
Mendel Levertov and Rabbi Ovadia Goldman, spiritual leader of Chabad Community Center for Jewish Life and Learning, celebrate the first night of Hanukkah during "Scissortail Lights" on Sunday in downtown Oklahoma City.

What a difference a year makes, both the rabbi and Oklahoma City Mayor David Holt said Sunday.

"This, this is a beautiful moment for our city to want to come together for a public celebration of Hanukkah," Goldman said.

Holt reminded the crowd that not only was the afternoon dark and the weather extremely cold during last year's Hanukkah event, but COVID-19 was a particular concern because cases of the virus had increased significantly in Oklahoma City at that time.

He said he understood the jubilation expressed by the rabbi and event emcee Larry Davis over Sunday's crowd-friendly weather and the subsequent turnout.

"I think we all kind of feel that way tonight," Holt said.

"We really truly believe that the worst is behind us now and I don't know about you, but it feels like the sun is not setting but rising in Oklahoma City. Oklahoma City has so much going for it and tonight was just one example."

Hanukkah 2021: When it is and what to know (no, it's not the 'Jewish Christmas')

People line up to get a taste of Hanukkah treats like latkes during "Scissortail Lights," a community Hanukkah celebration at Scissortail Park's Love's Travel Stops Stage and Great Lawn in downtown Oklahoma City.
People line up to get a taste of Hanukkah treats like latkes during "Scissortail Lights," a community Hanukkah celebration at Scissortail Park's Love's Travel Stops Stage and Great Lawn in downtown Oklahoma City.

Light over darkness

Often called the Jewish Festival of Lights, Hanukkah is an eight-day holiday that commemorates the victory of a band of Jews, the Maccabees, against Greek-Syrian occupiers in 165 B.C. and the re-dedication of their temple. When the Maccabees reclaimed the temple from their oppressors, they wanted to light the eternal light, known as the N'er Tamid, which is in every Jewish house of worship.

According to tradition, once lighted, the oil lamp should never be extinguished, but the Maccabees had only enough oil for one day. During Hanukkah, Jewish families light a candle on the menorah each night of the holiday to celebrate the miracle that the Maccabees' lamp stayed lit for eight days with the small amount of oil that remained.

The Hanukkah theme of light triumphing over darkness was expressed throughout Sunday's event, which included fire lighting the night as fire performer Bryan Sekine entertained the crowd.

"During these eight days of Hanukkah, we celebrate especially by lighting the menorah, which is also a symbol and message for all people, of triumphant freedom over oppression, spirit over matter, light over darkness," Goldman said. "It's a timely but a very reassuring message because you know the forces of darkness like to be ever present — we won't allow them."

Fire performer Bryan Sekine entertains the crowd during "Scissortail Lights," a community Hanukkah celebration on Sunday at Scissortail Park in downtown Oklahoma City.
Fire performer Bryan Sekine entertains the crowd during "Scissortail Lights," a community Hanukkah celebration on Sunday at Scissortail Park in downtown Oklahoma City.

Holt and U.S. Rep. Stephanie Bice, R-Oklahoma City, were among a small group of people who were transported up via scissor lift to conduct the lighting of the giant menorah. Bice shared remarks about the Hanukkah holiday.

"The menorah can serve as a symbol of light and hope for us all," she said. "We are reminded of unity and diversity by the eight separate branches of the menorah coming together as one."

Edie Roodman, executive director of the Oklahoma-Israel Exchange, or OKIE, also spoke of the menorah's symbolism.

"Throughout the days of Hanukkah, these candles are sacred," she said.

Holt lit the shamash or "helper candle." It's the ninth candle on the Hanukkah menorah and it is typically lit before prayers are said and the other candles are lit. Randy Trachtenberg from the metro-area Jewish community, lit another candle which represented the candle for the first night of Hanukkah.

More: Celebrating Hanukkah? Here's everything you need for a festive holiday

A family visits with Dreidel Man, portrayed by Berel Grossbaum, during "Scissortail Lights," a community Hanukkah celebration on Sunday at Scissortail Park's Love's Travel Stops Stage and Great Lawn in downtown Oklahoma City.
A family visits with Dreidel Man, portrayed by Berel Grossbaum, during "Scissortail Lights," a community Hanukkah celebration on Sunday at Scissortail Park's Love's Travel Stops Stage and Great Lawn in downtown Oklahoma City.

Meanwhile, Dreidel Man, portrayed by Berel Grossbaum, visited with people in the crowd. The dreidel, a spinning wooden top, is another popular symbol of Hanukkah. Guests were also treated to latkes, the potato pancakes traditionally eaten during Hanukkah as a food fried in oil.

Goldman said a giant menorah will be lighted at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday on the South Oval on the University of Oklahoma campus in Norman.

Also, Chabad-OKC will host a Car Menorah Parade on Thursday, featuring cars with lighted menorahs on top winding their way through the metro area. Parade participants will gather at 5 p.m. at Chabad, 3000 W Hefner Road, and the parade will begin there at 6 and end around 7 at the Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark.

This article originally appeared on Oklahoman: Community celebrates first night of Hanukkah in OKC