WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — The town marked the beginning of Hanukkah, the Festival of Lights, on Sunday evening with the lighting of its first menorah.
Installed next to the Christmas tree on the lawn of the Williams Inn, the menorah was sponsored by the Williamstown Chamber of Commerce and celebrated by Rabbis Rachel Barenblat and Seth Wax, chaplain at Williams College. The Williams Inn offered hot cocoa to keep everyone warm.
Chamber President Richard Duncan said the chamber has heard requests in recent years to make the town's annual Holiday Walk celebration more inclusive.
"We had a little committee that was looking into it, and then I pretty much just ran with it," Duncan said. "Rabbi Seth [Wax] helped us pick out a couple of websites to look at, and I went and found [a menorah] that I thought would work well out here — a good height that everyone could see from everywhere."
Waxman joined Barenblat, on guitar, in leading a crowd of a few dozen in a song of blessing prior to the illumination of the town's first publicly displayed menorah.
"Even last year there were calls from people to have a more inclusive thing added to the Holiday Walk," Duncan said. "The Holiday Walk is not about any specific holiday. But a number of people do equate a tree to a Christmas tree, even though it's just lights on a tree. We just thought it was important to really bring us into this era where we are representing different types of people and have this big menorah down here that everybody can see coming down Spring Street."
Barenblat, of Congregation Beth Israel in North Adams, then headed to City Hall to preside over the North Adams menorah lighting. More than a dozen people attended the lighting, held in the lobby this year.
The menorah had first been put up in 2018 and lighted annually in Dr. Rosenthal Square, across from City Hall. Mayor Jennifer Macksey said there had been difficulty in keeping the metal structure stable and lighted — and the weekend's snow would have made it hard to access.
Once again Andrew Zuckerman, Barenblat's son, pushed the button to "light" the first candle on the menorah. It is fully automatic and a candle, or light bulb, will come on at the same time each day for the eight days of Hanukkah.
The rabbi and her son lead the group in singing blessings and the mayor passed out small gift bags of chocolate gold coins and a tiny dreidel.
Barenblat noted, prior to the lighting, that the city had installed its menorah in response to the deadly shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh and now, with anti-Semitism on the rise, there are two public menorahs in North County.
Jewish Federation of the Berkshires has joined ShineaLighton.com, a national initiative to spotlight modern forms of anti-Semitism and its dangers, and to promote advocacy through social media engagement during Hanukkah. The federation hosted a community menorah lighting on Sunday night at The Mount in Lenox.
Barenblat explained that the Hanukkah story was about two miracles: the defeat of Syrian King Antiochus who ruled Jerusalem and outlawed Judaism, and the how the small amount of consecrated lamp oil "lasted as long as we needed it to" during the rededication of the Second Temple.
The uprising of the Maccabees against Antiochus isn't in the Hebrew scriptures, she said, but rather the "light of hope, the light of Holiness, the light of having enough, feeling that we are enough" is the tradition that has kept going "and kept us going."
According to Proverbs, Barenblat said, "the candle of God is the human soul."
"Unless our lives would be endangered, we're supposed to put the menorah in a window," said the rabbi, pointing to the menorah placed prominently in the large window next to the Christmas tree. "To put it in a place where people can see it where they can see that we are letting our light shine. And we do this by lighting and blessing candles — or in this case light bulbs. ...
"May these Hanukkah lights proclaim the miracle that we are still here and may the light of our souls illuminate the world in all the ways that it most needs."
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North Adams Women's History Hall of Fame Inducts New Members
Heather Boulger, left, Constance Tatro and Morgan Goodell at Tuesday's night ceremony at City Council.
Tuesday night saw the recognition of longtime School Committee member Heather Putnam Boulger, well-known child-care provider Constance Tatro and the city's first woman firefighter Morgan Goodell, as well as two historic figures — City Councilor Lottie Harriman, who helped establish the city airport, and Probation Officer Lois Quinn.
"This was created to honor women who contributed to laying the groundwork for women leaders in our community and to reinforce that all of us are valued community members," said Macksey at Tuesday's City Council meeting. "While we honor these fine women, we must also honor all women who make a difference each day. No matter what role you play your positive impact on the community is much need and appreciated."
Boulger, Tatro and Goodell attended the event and two of Quinn's relatives accepted the plaque in her honor and Keith Bona was asked to step in to accept Harriman's award as he had nominated her. He asked that the plaque be placed at the new building at Harriman & West Airport.