Utahns celebrate Hanukkah with public menorahs, parade in Salt Lake City

Steven Schwartz, vice president of basketball strategy for the Utah Jazz, left, Elizabeth Smart, Rabbi Avremi Zippel and Rabbi Benny Zippel, take part in a menorah lighting ceremony during halftime of a Jazz-Portland Trail Blazers game at Vivint Arena in Salt Lake City on Monday, as Chabad Lubavitch of Utah hosts the fifth Jewish Heritage Night with the Jazz.

Steven Schwartz, vice president of basketball strategy for the Utah Jazz, left, Elizabeth Smart, Rabbi Avremi Zippel and Rabbi Benny Zippel, take part in a menorah lighting ceremony during halftime of a Jazz-Portland Trail Blazers game at Vivint Arena in Salt Lake City on Monday, as Chabad Lubavitch of Utah hosts the fifth Jewish Heritage Night with the Jazz. (Shafkat Anowar, Deseret News)


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SALT LAKE CITY — The annual celebration of Hanukkah is centered around adding light and warmth to life and finding positivity and light to push out negativity and darkness, according to Utah's Rabbi Avremi Zippel.

"These are themes that we believe are universal. These are themes that we believe should be part of our life year-round. And I think we utilize the days of Hanukkah to gain inspiration for that, and we hope to live by those ideals year-round," Rabbi Zippel said.

Often called the Jewish Festival of Lights, Hanukkah is an annual eight-day celebration that began this year on Sunday and will end on Dec. 6. It celebrates a Jewish military force who defeated their enemy in ancient Israel and a small amount of undefiled oil the group found after recapturing the temple. That small amount of oil kept the temple menorah burning for eight days, giving them time to produce more oil.

On Sunday, members of the Jewish community and others, including Gov. Spencer Cox, gathered at the state Capitol building in Salt Lake City to light a menorah and kick off the year's celebrations. Rabbi Zippel said they have had a menorah lighting at the Capitol since 2014, although last year's event was held outdoors in the parking lot due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Rabbi Zippel said that the experience this year was "absolutely fantastic."

"Doing it like it was in years past (indoors), obviously with some minor modifications ... that was almost like a throwback to two different times. I think it gave people a lot of hope," he said.

This is a time of year for bringing people together, Rabbi Zippel said. During Hanukkah, he said a lot of Jews join community activities who would not otherwise connect with the community, and they treasure the interactions and relationships with others in the broader community.

At a Jazz game on Monday, the fifth Jewish Heritage Night with the Utah Jazz organization, Rabbi Zippel said there were dozens of people who came up to him and told him that they were not members of the Jewish faith, but that they were glad to see the Jazz supporting other groups in the community.

"We're excited to bring Utah's most active Hanukkah ever to our community, and invite the wider public to partake as well," the rabbi said in a press release about the week's events. "We look back with such gratitude for the entire city and state's response to the antisemitic incident that took place at the Chabad Community Center in May and invite all those that stood with us in our moment of sorrow, to now rejoice with us in our moments of celebration."

One of the Hanukkah events that is yet to happen is a Car Menorah Parade, which is scheduled for the evening of Dec. 4. As Chabad groups around the country thought about how to celebrate Hanukkah during the COVID-pandemic, they decided that a parade of vehicles with menorahs atop them could be a good way to celebrate.

Rabbi Zippel said people really enjoyed last year's parade, and are looking forward to the event this year and that it looks like the car parade will become a yearly tradition.

"It's been an amazing Hanukkah so far, and we are very excited to cap it off on a high note," he said.

Salt Lake City Council members and police will be involved in the parade and helping light the menorah.

"Sadly, these are people that we're usually connecting with when it's a moment of sadness or a moment of tragedy or a moment of an emergency," Rabbi Zippel said, "and so we always like to bring out some of our first responders and the leaders in that community to join with us in a happy setting."

He also noted that this Hanukkah celebration marks the beginning of the 30th year of Chabad Lubavitch of Utah, which was started by Rabbi Zippel's parents in December of 1992.

"When we look back and how much has been accomplished by my parents and how much the community has swelled over those 30 years, I think it fills us with gratitude. And it really motivates us for the future as we see our state and our city and our region just go through so much exponential growth. … I think it's just a really, really exciting time," he said

People who want to join in the Hanukkah festivities can attend the Dec. 4 vehicle parade, which will go from Chabad Lubavitch of Utah, 1760 S 1100 East, through Salt Lake City to the public menorah at Abravanel Hall Plaza, 123 W. South Temple. Details about the route are available on Chabad Lubavitch's website.

There are also a limited number of spots available for to join the car parade. For questions about the parade or how to join, send an email to avremi@jewishutah.com.

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