Nanaimo’s new rabbi will usher in the eight-day Hanukkah celebration on the steps of city hall next week.
Rabbi Bentzi Shemtov will mark Hanukkah with music, doughnuts and a menorah-lighting ceremony at Nanaimo city hall on Dec. 8, three days into the Jewish holiday.
It’s the first community event for the rabbi, who plans to open a central Vancouver Island Jewish centre that serves community needs from synagogue to educational and social events, like bar mitzvahs.
Until now, Shemtov said there hasn’t been a full-time rabbi for the central Island, although his brother-in-law Rabbi Meir Kaplan made the trip here twice a year from Victoria. They are both part of the Chabad organization, which has 4,000 centres globally, and saw a demand here for a full-time rabbi.
Shemtov estimates there are 1,000 to 1,500 Jews in the region and hopes the new centre, still in the works, becomes a home where Jewish people can connect to their heritage and with other Jewish people and come together for holidays like this December’s Hanukkah, or Friday night Sabbath dinner.
“A lot of [Jews] told us, some of them are more religious, some of them are less, but everyone wants some type of Jewish presence over where they can meet other Jews and be part of their culture,” he said.
Richard Steinberg, a Nanoose resident, is excited about the arrival of Shemtov and his family, who moved to Nanaimo from Toledo, Ohio a month ago.
“Now that we have a rabbi and a budding synagogue here, a place to go to form a community, that brings it again to a whole new level,” he said.
Hanukkah begins in the evening on Sunday (Dec. 6). It’s a celebration of the miracle of oil, but Shemtov says it also carries an important message in the lighting of the menorah that the way to fight darkness is through light, or good deeds.
“Just light one candle, just do one good deed,” he said. “The next step is to add two good deeds and before you know it the whole menorah will be lit; the whole world will be a positive world.”
The public event with Mayor Bill McKay starts at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday on the front steps of city hall. Refreshments and music will follow at the Service and Resource Centre at 411 Dunsmuir St.
To reach Shemtov, call 250-797-7877 or go to www.jewishnanaimo.com.