With Thanksgiving past and the days getting shorter and shorter, members of the Arkansas Jewish community are in the midst of their annual Hanukkah celebrations.
The public festivities drew Orthodox, Reformed and Conservative Jews, as well as many of their non-Jewish friends and neighbors.
Standing next to Lubavitch of Arkansas, Rabbi Pinchus Cement, Governor Asa Hutchinson lit a large menorah with a small torch shortly after sunset Sunday in western Little Rock, marking the first day of the Festival of eight day lights.
Since then, an additional light has been turned on every evening.
The menorah, at the corner of Chenal Parkway and Bowman Road, is widely considered to be the largest in the state.
The public celebration of Little Rock, with cheerful music and fried potato fritters known as latkes, dates back to the early 1990s, according to organizers.
Harry Ehrenberg is a regular participant.
âI don’t know if I’ll be doing it every night, but I’ll be there most nights,â the man from Little Rock said. “The lighting of the menorah is just a part of our life.”
Similar exhibits were also set up along Central Avenue in Hot Springs and near Lawrence Plaza in downtown Bentonville.
The eight-day festival of lights, commemorating the dedication of Jerusalem’s second temple after the Maccabean revolt, began at sunset Sunday, ends Monday evening when the last candles or lamps have been lit.
Since taking office in January 2015, Hutchinson, a Baptist, has attended the Little Rock Menorah lighting ceremony every year, he said before turning on the first light.
The crowd included a host of political leaders, Hutchinson noted. Among them were US Representative French Hill, R-Ark., Lieutenant Governor Tim Griffin, Mayor Frank Scott and others.
“We value the Jewish community in Arkansas and the fact that I have been here for seven years reflects my commitment to work with you. [and] to recognize the incredible contributions you make to our State and to our nation and to our bond of faith, âhe said.
The Covid-19 did not derail last year’s celebration.
The outlook, 12 months later, is brighter, Hutchinson said.
âA year ago, we were looking at the hardships of winter without any vaccination, with covid still rife,â he said. “Today we have a vaccine thanks to medical science and the grace of God.”
While our own country has been blessed with a strong vaccine supply, “We need to share our largesse here in the United States and help other countries still battling the coronavirus,” Hutchinson added.
In an interview, Ciment said Hutchinson’s involvement was appreciated.
“It means something special to the Jewish community which does not represent a large percentile of (…) state citizens,” he said. âThey really respect him for taking the time. They don’t take it for granted,â he said.
Although the Jewish community has deep roots in Arkansas, it is relatively small. Less than 1% of Arkansans identified as Jewish in the 2014 US Religious Landscape Study, funded by the Pew Charitable Trusts.
In addition to the menorah lighting, Lubavitch of Arkansas is also planning to hold a Hanukkah parade this Sunday, with a caravan of cars coming from west of Little Rock Menorah, passing the retirement homes and Arkansas Children’s Hospital to the Clinton Presidential Center.
Hanukkah celebrations are also scheduled for Sunday at Congregation B’nai Israel and Congregation Agudath Achim, both in Little Rock, as well as at Shalom Temple in Fayetteville.
The celebration in B’nai Israel will include a magic show and take place outdoors, so children can participate, regardless of their immunization status, Rabbi Barry Block said.
More information on all events is available at jewisharkansas.org/chanukah-5782.