Jewish community kicks off Hanukkah with unifying event in Aksarben Village

WOWT 6 News 10 p.m. Sunday newscast
Published: Dec. 18, 2022 at 9:47 PM CST
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OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) - Sunday night marks the first night of the Jewish celebration of Hanukkah, and despite recent antisemitic rhetoric, Omaha’s Jewish community gathered pridefully at a unifying event in Stinson Park.

For the Jewish community, Hanukkah is a celebration not only of religious freedom but of joy and light. Each night for 8 nights, a candle is lit on the menorah.

“The idea is that we constantly are growing and that little bit of extra light we’re adding is illuminating the world in a powerful way that really is immeasurable and we can’t really appreciate it,” says Rabbi Eli Tenenbaum with Chabad of Nebraska.

Tenenbaum and dozens of others met to light the first of the eight candles on their cornhusker menorah as the sun set.

“We want to spread the light, the miracles of Hanukkah but also just the good in the world, and how we can share with each other and help make everyone happier, and it’s a better place,” says Nancy Wolf, a member of the Jewish community who came to celebrate on Sunday.

Sunday’s event doubles as a public display of pride in the midst of a recent rise in antisemitic rhetoric.

From antisemitic flyers posted near Omaha’s temples to intolerant remarks by celebrities.

“It’s something that we know about, we basically keep going, doing what we’re doing,” says Tenenbaum.

“Most people are very generous, loving, and kind, and we want to stay strong and show that we’re important too, and we have a lot to offer the community and we can be different yet still be a strong part of the whole community,” Wolf adds.

The Antidefamation League says antisemitic incidents were at an all-time high in 2021, averaging around seven hateful incidents - ranging from harassment, vandalism, and assault - every single day across the nation.

“We try to not let it affect us, we’re cognizant of it of course, but we don’t let it affect us, we grow, we do more, and that’s that same message of Hanukkah, the more darkness that’s around, the more light we have to produce and that’s what it’s all about,” Tenenbaum adds.

As the Hanukkah celebration continues, Tenenbaum has one message for everyone:

“Whether you’re Jewish, Gentile, whatever you might be, whatever color, creed, race, whatever you might want to call yourself, just do something good,” he says. “Do something positive for those around you and the effect will be felt across the world.”