VENTNOR — At the end of a long table, with 10 attendees from surrounding towns looking on, Rabbi Avrohom Rapoport on Friday extolled the importance of particularity in the practice of lighting a menorah.
He explained differing schools of thought on best practices: one that holds that all eight candles should be lit on the first night, followed by seven on the next night, and so on, versus another that says to work the opposite way, from one candle on the first night to two on the second night, and so on.
The eight days of Hanukkah will start Sunday evening and end at sundown Dec. 10.
Rapoport, 37, of Ventnor, struck a match to light the Shamash, or lead candle, and used it to light the eight smaller candles.
There are two blessings recited every night, he said, and a third, Baruch Atah Adonai, recited only on the first night, “to thank God for bringing us to this moment.”
He led the group in recitation.
Rapoport leads a congregation at the Chai Center on Atlantic Avenue, a part of Chabad at the Shore. The service is traditional Orthodox, he says, but “the people who come primarily are not.”
Longtime congregant and Linwood resident Evelyn Heward, 81, said she finds remembering the meaning of traditional practices, like lighting the menorah, to be critical during times of hardship or darkness.
“We don’t want people to lose sight,” Heward said.
The instruction preceded the final lesson in a series called Wrestling With Faith, a six-week program taught in many Jewish centers around the world, Rapoport said. Friday’s lesson centered on the struggle between faith and science.
Before lighting the menorah, he spoke at length about the origins of the holiday, about King Antiochus IV Epiphanes and his persecution of the Jewish people, and how he forbade observing the Jewish religion.
The Maccabees, freedom fighters, staged a revolt.
“They were outnumbered against the mighty Syrian-Greek army against a handful of, really, students,” Rapoport said. “And against all odds, they are victorious.”
They returned to the Holy Temple in Jerusalem to find it ransacked, defiled and filled with examples of idolatry. They wanted to light the menorah but found the Greeks had broken the seal on their kosher oil and defiled it.
“And miraculously, they found this one jug of oil and decided to light it anyway,” Rapoport said. “The story of Hanukkah, I believe, is really a story for all people. A message of freedom; a message of acceptance. And the menorah is a symbol of light.”
Jewish people light the menorah during the time when the sun sets earliest in the winter, Rapoport said.
“So the imagery and the message of the Hanukkah menorah is really the power of light over darkness,” he said. “And I think the lesson is the power of goodness over evil, freedom over oppression. And I think it’s extra appropriate and apropos for the world we’re living in today, where there is a lot of darkness, especially after (the synagogue shooting in) Pittsburgh,” he said.
“There’s really too much bad stuff going around,” she said. “Anything that we can do to help or lighten the situation, make peace among people, happiness.”
Rapoport expects that the tragic massacre in Pittsburgh in October, when a man entered a synagogue in the Squirrel Hill section of the city and shot 11 people dead, will strengthen the Jewish community.
“I think we’re going to see more people observing the Hanukkah lights and coming together as families and communities,” Rapoport said, “because in the face of such tragedy and such evil, the response in the Jewish tradition is come together, bring people together. Unity. Community. Love.”