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Community Members Celebrate First Night of Hanukkah with Menorah Lighting

by on December 12, 2017 7:30 PM

Light triumphs over darkness, and each person has the power to add more light to the world through acts of love and kindness.

That was among the key messages from Rabbis Hershy Gourarie and Nosson Meretsky of Chabad of Penn State as State College and Penn State community members gathered for the lighting of a menorah in front of Old Main on Tuesday night, the first night of Hanukkah.

"Hanukkah is a time when we celebrate the power of light over darkness, love over hate and good over evil," Gourarie said.

The celebration came about six weeks after the 9-foot menorah that stood in front of Gourarie's State College home was stolen, damaged and left on the front porch of the historically Jewish Sigma Alpha Mu fraternity. Four Penn State students were charged on Nov. 17 for their alleged involvement.

"That was a moment of darkness," Gourarie said. "However, our response is to double our efforts and commitment to keep on adding light to the world."

Thanks to the generosity of community members, that menorah has been replaced with a 12-foot version that was lit on Tuesday and will stand at the Allen Street Gates. Gourarie added that members of Sigma Alpha Mu were in attendance "to spread the light" and would have a large menorah in front of their house.

Gourarie noted the large crowd that attended the lighting on a frigid weeknight in the middle of finals week, and he said it represents the true spirit of Penn State and the local community.

"And together we can make this the true spirit of the entire world," he said. "As our sages say, a little bit of light dispels much darkness. The same is true of our lives. All it takes is a small gesture of love to brighten up someone’s day. That is the way we as a community will leave this world a brighter place."

Jake Wolf of Sigma Alpha Mu lights the menorah Tuesday night outside of Old Main.

Moretsky briefly discussed the meaning of the miracles commemorated by the eight-day Jewish festival of lights -- how a small band of Maccabees defeated the powerful Syrian-Greek army and reclaimed the temple in Jerusalem, then how a small jug of oil fueled the menorah in the temple for eight days. 

The first miracle, he said, came to a small band who held on to their convictions and beliefs.

"The question is how do we say 'I’m going to be different. I’m going to go against the grain. I’m going to change the world.' Where do we get that strength? From this first miracle of Hanukkah," he said. "Each one of us has our own light, the light of our soul. And each one of us is able to shine that ... each one of us has to have that power, that courage to fight against all odds and to take that light the we have and courage to be different and to shine it.

"When each one of us takes that power of our soul, that light of acts of goodness and kindness, we make the world that much of a brighter place."

Penn State Provost and Executive Vice President Nick Jones said the community coming together for the lighting of the menorah is a reminder of the importance of diversity and inclusion at the university.

The Jewish community at Penn State, which includes about 5,000 students in addition to faculty and staff, is very involved in advancing that commitment, he said, and played a central role in the launch last year of the university's "All In" diversity and inclusion campaign and its core message of "Be who you are together."

"Now as we celebrate the beginning of Hanukkah, you can take pride in knowing that members of our Jewish community are continuing to lead the way so that we can all travel a path that emphasizes the power of light, kindness and respect," Jones said. "As we near the end of 2017, this all still matters, in ways many of us never could have envisioned. This evening, however, with the ceremonial lighting of the menorah, we are lighting up Penn State and our world with kindness."

Another public menorah lighting will be held at 5 p.m. on Sunday outside of the State College Municipal Building.

Geoff Rushton is managing editor for Contact him at or find him on Twitter at @geoffrushton.
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