Easton celebrates 1st night of Hanukkah in Centre Square with menorah lighting
EASTON, Pa. — On a chilly Thursday evening in Easton’s Downtown district, dozens of members of the Lehigh Valley’s Jewish community, friends, and supporters came together to celebrate the first night of Hanukkah.
The brightly lit trees in Centre Square served as a seasonal background for the lighting of the menorah.
Festive music filled the square as people gathered in anticipation, watching as Rabbi Yaacov Halperin removed the bulbs from his position in the bucket of a fire truck before setting up two receptacles that would be lit with fire shortly thereafter.
Hanukkah begins on the eve of Kislev 25 — Dec. 7 in 2023 — and continues for eight days, celebrating the victory of the Jews, led by Judah the Maccabee, against the Seleucids, or Syrian-Greeks, in the second century BCE. After driving the Greeks from their land, the Jews reclaimed their Holy Temple in Jerusalem and rededicated it.
When they went to light the temple’s menorah, they only found a single jar of olive oil which had remained clean. The oil, which would normally have only lasted a single day, kept the light going for eight days until a new supply could be prepared under the ritual of purity.
Hanukkah stands as a commemoration of that miracle and serves to spread the word of it via the festival.
Mayor Sal Panto Jr. welcomed the crowd, thanking people for gathering for a peaceful night to celebrate a rich heritage.
“I want to take time to thank all of you for continuing this tradition. This is not just a religious tradition. It's a cultural tradition. And I really appreciate that because we are a city of diversity,” Panto said, adding he was happy to see the event play out for the 19th year, and hoping for the continuation of the ceremony.
As Halperin began to speak, he thanked the sponsors of the event before encouraging everyone in attendance to pass their flame along to one another’s candles, which were distributed shortly beforehand, to “share the light with others.”
Reflecting on the fear of antisemitism in the past, and how the Hamas attacks of Oct. 7 lit a fire in the Jewish community to “fight for good over evil,” Halperin spoke with a strong sense of hope.
“And every single one of us is like a candle in the menorah, every single one of us has this unique, beautiful candle within us – our soul. And it's our responsibility to make sure that we use that soul, that we use that menorah, that we use that light and bring light to our surroundings,” Halperin said.
Halperin took to the fire truck’s bucket again, alongside B’Nai Shalom Synagogue President Marc Abo, to light the first two candles of the menorah, following up with a blessing accompanied by a lone trumpet. The pair tossed a few handfuls of golden chocolate coins to the children in the crowd before descending to the stage, where they joined the crowd to share in the holiday joy.
While the band packed up and people dispersed – not before enjoying some desserts and drinks, of course – a few stayed behind to celebrate the night with one another, share their company, and take solace in the holiday.
“It just beautiful because, you know, Hanukkah is the Festival of Lights, and it's a miracle. And it's wonderful just to celebrate a miracle,” Abo said, thanking Halperin, Panto, the band and everyone else in attendance.
Decked out in festive glasses and a beaming smile, Howard Nathanson of Palmer Township was joyous over the strong sense of community in Centre Square on Thursday.
“So tonight being the first night of Hanukkah, it's a celebration, and to be out here in the community and celebrate with the community is very important because we are communal people. It's wonderful to see so many people that came out here. And Easton is so filled with so many cultures and religions that I feel it's important that we represent ourselves as well as part of the community,” Nathanson said.
Halperin celebrated the “beautiful turnout,” which he said was especially important in times of darkness, and to see such a strong showing of support in the face of antisemitism and war was particularly touching.
“So we come together as a community to celebrate religious freedom, which is what the menorah represents, and the beauty of America, and to stand together and remind us that a little bit of light can push away a lot of darkness,” Halperin said.
“That's the message of Hanukkah. And that's the message for every single one of us to remember, that we have that candle within us, and we have that ability to light our candle and our flame will push away the darkness that is around us and will bring light to the people around us. And this will have a domino effect. That light will bring more light, and more darkness will be lashed away.”