The Jewish celebration of light illuminated the Riverwalk Amphitheater Wednesday night.
Though it’s the seventh year for the Hanukkah celebration, it’s Rabbi Michael Sternfield’s first with Temple Beth El.
But the meaning of the celebration was not lost on him. Sternfield recognized the history of the Jewish holiday, noting that Jews fought for the freedom to celebrate their religion under Greek rule. The work Hanukkah means “dedication” and represents the re-dedication of Jewish temples after their revolt from the Greeks, according to Sternfield.
“And we’ve been celebrating ever since.”
The freedom to celebrate the holiday openly, in public, with people of all different religions, was an important message.
“With all the tensions we’re feeling these days, it’s a good message to take,” Sternfield said. “Thank God everybody is free to observe or not.”
A group of more than 100 people gathered to sing along to traditional and new Hanukkah songs led by choir members from the First United Methodist Church of Bradenton, the Shabbat band and Cantorial soloist Deborah Polkinghorn-Suta from Temple Beth El.
Whether it was the unseasonably warm weather or the sound of joyful music coming from the stage, the event drew one of its largest crowds.
Though the candles on a menorah are traditionally lit from left to right, and one for each night of celebration, all of the candles were lit symbolically Wednesday.
“We light all of the candles so we feel like we’ve been together for the entire celebration,” Polkinghorn-Suta, who also teaches Jewish studies and music at Community Day School of Sarasota and University of South Florida said.
As the candles were lit, the meaning each candle brought to the eight-day celebration was read aloud.