On Friday, the third night of Hanukkah, the grass was wet, but at least it wasn’t raining anymore.
And that was a good thing for Temple Bat Yahm, which held its menorah-lighting ceremony outside on its grassy lawn in Newport Beach for all to see.
“It just cleared up in time,” said senior Rabbi Gersh Zylberman with a smile. “It was touch and go this morning, but we had faith that everything would be OK.”
Zylberman and Cantor Jonathan Grant led the ceremony from a ladder so they could light the candles atop the giant menorah. The temple on Camelback Street has held Hanukkah services throughout its 40-year history.
One of the temple’s rabbis, Rayna Gevurtz, was in the audience. She brought her family to take part in the eight-day Jewish tradition, which traces its beginnings to around 167 B.C., when the Holy Temple in Jerusalem was rededicated after being defiled by the Syrian-Greeks.
The number of celebratory days take its cue from the oil used for the rededication, which, according to tradition, lasted eight days instead of only one.
“For Jews, it’s a celebration of freedom to worship the way we want to worship,” said Gevurtz, a klezmer clarinet sounding behind her.
Zylberman added that the evening “marks a time of hope, rededication to all those values that we hold dear.”
This year is particularly special because of the “Thanksgivukkah” effect, noted Shira Wheeler, the temple’s marketing and programs manager.
For first time since the late 1800s, the first day of Hanukkah has coincided with Thanksgiving.
Temple organizers, in their flier about the menorah lighting, urged the local Jewish community to “forget about leftover turkey” and celebrate Hanukkah “with your Temple Bat Yahm family!”
After the lighting, about 500 attendees filed into the temple for Shabbat services. Dale Schatz and his band took up a corner to play traditional music.
The evening included prayer, food, dancing and another lighting ceremony for the small menorahs that families brought from home.
“It’s a unique ceremony,” said Wheeler, the congregants singing, praying and enjoying the festivities around her. “I’ve never seen another temple that does this.”