More than 2,000 people are expected to gather in front of the Riverside Historic Courthouse Monday evening to join the Chabad Jewish Community Center’s 15th annual Hanukkah Festival, which this year honors a Holocaust survivor, who served in the U.S. Army and was an Israeli freedom fighter.
The public event, marking the second night of Hanukkah, is set for 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. at Main and Tenth streets.
“Hanukkah is the celebration of light over darkness,” Chabad Rabbi Shmuel Fuss said. “The darkness that we, as a nation, have been experiencing must be fought with light and goodness, as we are putting together our biggest program ever to show that we will not be intimidated by those who wish to scare us.”
The rabbi described the message of the eight-day holiday as one of “triumph of freedom over oppression, of spirit over matter.”
The Hanukkah fest always includes the lighting of a 12-foot menorah, positioned in front of the century-old courthouse at 4050 Main St. This year’s torch-bearer will be Albert Rosa, who was born in Saloniki, Greece, and was 15 years old when he, his immediate family and over 60 relatives were sent to the Auschwitz death camp.
Rosa was the sole survivor, escaping the Nazis and enlisting in the U.S. Army while not yet a citizen of the United States. According to his biography, he went into combat in Europe before the end of World War II and was awarded the Purple Heart for injuries suffered in battle.
After the war, he became a fighter with the Irgun, a Jewish underground movement seeking Israel’s independence in then-British-controlled Palestine. He was imprisoned by the British in Cypress but was released after Israel became a state. He now works with veterans suffering PTSD and physical disabilities.
Fuss, who is known for comedic parables and wrangling his guests for celebratory dancing, will speak, along with Riverside City Council members and several Riverside County officials. There will be traditional Jewish food, arts and crafts, kids’ activities and musical entertainment.
Hanukkah commemorates the Maccabees’ victory over a larger Syrian army in 165 B.C.
Once the Jews defeated the Hellenist forces at the end of a three-year rebellion, the temple in Jerusalem, which the occupiers had dedicated to the worship of Zeus, was re-dedicated in God’s honor by Judah Maccabee, who led the insurgency.
According to the story of Hanukkah, Maccabee and his soldiers wanted to light the temple’s ceremonial lamp with ritually pure olive oil as part of their re-dedication, but found only enough oil to burn for one day. The oil, however, burned for eight days in what was embraced as a miracle.
Hanukkah, which means “dedication” in Hebrew, is observed around the world by lighting candles at sundown. The reason for the lights is so passers-by should see them and be reminded of the holiday’s miracle.
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