Menorahs to glow across the region

An expanded schedule of public menorah lightings in the Modesto region beginning this week will mark the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah.

Modesto’s Congregation Beth Shalom, the only synagogue in Stanislaus County, will hold two Chanukiah, or menorah, lightings in Modesto, as well as one each in Oakdale, Turlock and Tracy. This is the third year CBS has hosted public lightings.

“Local celebrations of (Hanukkah) have occurred in Modesto since before the founding of the local Jewish congregation in the early 1920s, but the public outdoor lightings that have taken place downtown over the past two years are believed to be the first-ever community-wide celebrations” Rabbi Shalom Bochner of Congregation Beth Shalom said in an email.

The third annual Festival of Lights will be held at 5 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 8, at Tenth Street Plaza and also will feature songs and treats. A Hanukkah party will be held at Congregation Beth Shalom, 1705 Sherwood Ave., Modesto, at 6:30 p.m.

While it’s considered a minor festival in the annual Jewish calendar, the eight-day celebration of Hanukkah dates back more than 2,170 years, Bochner said. The holiday – which each year overlaps with the new moon, and hence includes one of the darkest nights of the year – marks a victory by the Maccabees in their struggle for religious and political freedom.

Hanukkah follows the ancient Hebrew lunar calendar and usually fluctuates between very early and very late December.

“The tradition is to light the Chanukiah, or Chanukah Menorah (candelabrum) to publicize the miraculous story of the rededication of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem at the time of Maccabees.”

According to, a Jewish educational website, in 165 B.C., Israel was ruled by the Seleucids (Syrian Greeks), who sought to forcefully Hellenize the people of Israel. Against all odds, a small band of faithful Jews – the Maccabees – defeated one of the mightiest armies on Earth and reclaimed the holy temple in Jerusalem. But the temple had been desecrated, and when the people wanted to light its menorah, they found only a one-day supply of holy olive oil left. Miraculously, the oil burned for eight days until new, ritually pure oil was ready.

A main message of the holiday “is the power of light over darkness, the triumph of hope over despair,” Bochner said.

Menorah lighting celebrations

When: Downtown Oakdale, today, Dec. 6, 5 p.m.

Tenth Street Plaza, downtown Modesto, Tuesday, Dec. 8, 5 p.m. with party 6:30 p.m.

California State University, Stanislaus, in Turlock, Wednesday, Dec. 9, 4:30 p.m.

McHenry Village in Modesto, Friday, Dec. 11, 4;30 p.m.

Tracy City Hall, Sunday, Dec. 13, 4:30 p.m.

Admission: Free

Call: 209-571-6062