Light the way: Menorah brings 'warmth into cold and dark world'

By: Sue Reid | Solon Times, December 29, 2016

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With the belief that fire represents life, Rabbi Zushe Greenberg on Monday illuminated three candles on a 12-foot tall menorah, marking the third day of the Jewish holiday Hanukkah.

The eight-day holiday known as the festival of lights, began at sunset on Dec. 24 with candles ignited each evening by Jews across Northeast Ohio as well as worldwide.

Surrounded by about 300 members of the Chabad Jewish Center of Solon, the celebration is purposefully held outside, the Rabbi’s wife Miriam Greenberg noted, in recognition of Jewish pride.

“We are bringing light and warmth into the cold and dark world,” Rabbi Greenberg, 50, said of the celebration’s symbolism. “I don’t just see eight candles, but many, many candles." “It’s our job to nurture the flame, and to keep it going,” Mrs. Greenberg, 46, added.

Though the last candles will be lighted on Saturday night, the holiday officially ends on at nightfall on New Year’s Day. Hanukkah commemorates the rededication of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem at the time of the Maccabean Revolt against the Seleucid Empire. Rabbi Greenberg, whose Chabad serves 600 families, has been a rabbi for more than 25 years.  

Hanukkah is marked each year by the rabbi as if it were the first celebration, he said. “The idea we take from Hanukkah is that we have to look at life as something new,” he said. In Hebrew, the word Hanukkah has two meanings, the rabbi explained, education and dedication. “The idea is we should not be tired of life, but get excited about life and religion,” he said. “That’s the message of Hanukkah.”

That excitement is also what helped the Jewish people survive when they did not have the religious freedoms of today, the Rabbi continued. “It’s about being excited about Judaism every day,” the rabbi said. “That’s our philosophy and our whole center. “It’s a mental decision, a mindset,” he added. “God gives you a new day.”

That excitement is something the Greenbergs see in the youth of their congregation each year at Hanukkah, they said, including in their own 2-year-old son Moishy’s eyes. Moishy is Hebrew for Moses. “Seeing the excitement in his eyes speaks to the newness,” Mrs. Greenberg said. The couple have nine children and three grandchildren.

“I look at every candle as one more child,” the rabbi said. “Everyone makes the world brighter and warmer.” Every evening, a candle is added to the candle holder called a hanukiah. The shamash, or helper candle, is used to light the other candles that total eight on the last night. “You always have to add in your good deeds in life,” the Rabbi explained of the meaning behind that tradition. “What’s enough today is not enough tomorrow. “You have to grow.”

That is the message the Rabbi shares with his congregation, he said, not just during Hanukkah, but year round. Rabbi Greenberg studied at rabbinic school in New York under Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, the leader of the Chabad movement. He brought with him to Solon more than 20 years ago a vision to reach out and give the opportunity for everyone to have the Jewish experience, which is at the core of the Chabad movement.  

He has served the Solon community and beyond since 1991, marking the opening of the Chabad at its current location in 2004. Chabad is Hebrew for wisdom, understanding and knowledge. It is one of the largest Jewish organizations in the world known for its outreach. 

The rabbi said that, while Judaism is rooted in tradition, there may be those who tire of it during holidays like Hanukkah. In response, he tells them to invite someone new to the table as a way to renew their joy. “The moment you share it with others,” the rabbi said of the Hanukkah traditions, “it makes you excited.”

The Solon Chabad, which is unique in that it is led by an Orthodox rabbi with a congregation of conservative, Reform or unaffiliated Jews, is centered on children, the rabbi noted, with every class in the temple’s preschool celebrating Hanukkah in a meaningful way.

This year, the preschool children adopted a family, Mrs. Greenberg said, giving toys and gifts to those less fortunate. They also took part in latke (potato pancake) making classes. Children from the Solon Jewish community also performed a small Hanukkah play in conjunction with the outside menorah lighting ceremony. “We are centered around children because they are the future,” Rabbi Greenberg said. “It is important to raise children with the warmth and love of Judaism.”

In his own home, which is on the Chabad property at Harper and Cannon roads, the Rabbi is surrounded by his family while he lights the Menorah each night of Hanukkah. He does so the “authentic way,” with olive oil, he said, carrying on the tradition of thousands of year ago. “That is how it was done in the Holy Temple in Israel,” the rabbi explained of the olive oil, “and we are commemorating the miracle of the oil.”

The Greenbergs’ Menorah is positioned in the entrance to their dining room, with their family singing traditional songs in Hebrew following the lighting. Their menorah is made of silver and Mrs. Greenberg gifted it to her husband upon their engagement, she recalled fondly. The couple was married in 1990. The rabbi gives his own children Hanukkah gelt, which is money, another time-honored Jewish tradition. With the cash, the children are instructed to give a portion to charity, the Greenbergs explained. Chocolate coins are also traditional gifts for children. 

“In our home, we do the old traditional methods of giving our kids money in lieu of Hanukkah gifts,” Mrs. Greenberg explained. “We sit around the candles and spend time with the family,” Mrs. Greenberg continued of their own traditions. Phones are turned off and “everyone stops.” Mrs. Greenberg makes traditional latkes from scratch, utilizing a recipe handed down from her great grandparents. The family eats them fresh from the frying pan, with no topping, she added. 

“The entire concept is what to give, not get,” Mrs. Greenberg added of lessons during Hanukkah and year round. “We don’t want to raise takers, but givers.” “God is a giver,” the rabbi said. “Be excited about life,” the rabbi concluded. “Be happy and successful. That is the message of Hanukkah.”