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Hanukkah takes on special meaning

Congregations’ prayers with kin in Middle East

Rabbi Courtney Berman of Congregation Ohev Beth Sholom lights the menorah during a Hanukkah celebration this weekend. Several Hanukkah events have taken place locally.

YOUNGSTOWN — This year’s Hanukkah celebrations are taking on a somber tone for local Jews as the war between Israel and Hamas enters its third month.

At a community Hanukkah celebration Sunday at Congregation Ohev Beth Sholom, 1119 Elm St., prayers for peace, the safety of those who have been kidnapped, and the thousands who have lost their lives, were said. Friday’s event included a musical Shabbat and lighting of the menorah followed by a dinner with latkes, pizza and other food.

On Sunday, a community Hanukkah learning session was led by Rabbi Courtney Berman of Congregation Ohev Beth Sholom and Rabbi Seth Sternstein of Temple El Emeth in Liberty.

Sternstein said, “Hanukkah has an eternal message which is the fight for religious freedom for all.”

He said the holiday, which began Thursday and lasts eight days, commemorates the first war fought on behalf of religious freedom.

“I hope people remember that it was the Jewish people who taught the world about the very idea of religious freedom,” Sternstein said.

“In fact, the First Amendment to the Constitution, which is freedom of religion, owes its origins to the Jewish concept of freedom of religion. The reason we have freedom of religion in America is because of Hanukkah.”

He said he and others hope that “light will enter the world” so that the hostages will be freed and people around the world can live in peace and have freedom.

Berman led special prayers Friday and noted one of the crucial messages of Hanukkah is hope.

She said with the lighting of the menorah each day “we increase the light in the world.”

“This year especially we need to be aware of the light that we are able to bring to the world, and Hanukkah can help reinforce that message,” Berman said.

She said those being held hostage are “our family and a part of us.

“When our Jewish family is in pain anywhere in the world, we are in pain also. We are painfully aware of the rising antisemitism in our country and want Jews everywhere to still be able to proudly do things such as celebrate Hanukkah. What has been happening is very sad,” Berman said, noting some families are afraid of anyone knowing they are celebrating Hanukkah.

Sarah Wilschek, executive director of Congregation Ohev Beth Sholom, said more than 200 photos of kidnapped men, women and children from Israel will placed on the walls at the temple.

She said many Jewish people were victims of Hamas in early October.

“Hanukkah has more of a meaning this year. It has never felt more meaningful than now,” she said.

As Israel’s war against Hamas terrorists continues, the Jewish Community Relations Council of the Youngstown Area Jewish Federation has held briefings the past few months. Yuval Donio-Gideon, Consul for Public Diplomacy at the Israeli Consulate in New York, updated the community recently about the expanding war against Hamas terrorists.

Bonnie Deutsch Burdman, executive director of community relations and government affairs for the YAJF, also has in recent months provided local updates.

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