CHEYENNE– The 14th annual Menorah Lighting Ceremony was held Wednesday at the state Capitol, where Rabbi Zalman Mendelsohn and Gov. Mark Gordon placed an emphasis on spreading a positive light this Hanukkah season.
The event moved back indoors this year, filling a wing of the Capitol with people from around Wyoming, as well as food, music and the massive menorah that towered behind the podium.
The Cheyenne Youth Symphony contributed a string ensemble to play through classic Hanukkah songs prior to the event. When it was time to light the menorah, Rabbi Medelsohn stepped to the podium and thanked the many people who had gathered for the event before holding a moment of remembrance for Rabbi Larry H. Moldo, who died in August 2020.
To conclude the introduction, he offered a gift in the form of a metal sculpture of a menorah to Gov. Gordon, thanking him and first lady Jennie Gordon for embodying the “commonality that exists within each and every one of us.”
“There’s so many different paths, so many different lifestyles and so many different political viewpoints,” Rabbi Mendelsohn said in his speech. “There’s a solid gold that brings us all together, with love, with humanity, with character and with a sense that we are all part of the same people of Wyoming.”
For the remainder of his presentation, Rabbi Mendelsohn emphasized the need for each and every person to be a shining light in the world. He likened the spirit of lighting the menorah to the story of a young Jewish woman who was oppressed in communist Russia. To create joy in her life, she chose to dance every day, despite her difficult situation. As she continued to dance, the joy in her life steadily increased. The menorah is a sign of perseverance, the choice of the Jewish people to carry on through years of adversity.
Each lighting of the menorah is another light in the name of strength and courage.
“After so much pain and suffering that the state of Wyoming has been through, the American people have been through, the world over has been through with this terrible endemic, we need more light in the world, especially today,” Rabbi Mendelsohn said.
In an effort to distribute this mindset among those in attendance, complimentary travel menorahs were free to take and display at home.
Rabbi Mendelsohn then invited Gov. Gordon and first lady Gordon to the podium to light the ninth candle of the menorah, which sits high in the middle, symbolically known as the candle that lights the rest.
Gov. Gordon echoed similar sentiments, making a connection to the symbolism of the gold used in a menorah.
“The people that are assembled here are part of our family of Wyoming,” he said. “If there is gold in what we are, that is where the gold is in our family, and that is what holds us together.”
Because Hanukkah began Monday, three lights were lit during the ceremony.
For the lighting of the first day, Rabbi Mendelsohn invited up two rabbis in training, Lazer Oberlander from Budapest, Hungary, and Yisrael Dick from Morristown, New Jersey. They have been traveling Wyoming, in which the Jewish faith is traditionally sparse, to spread the word of the Hebrew bible over the holiday season before returning to their hometowns in a week.
Wyoming State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jillian Balow was invited to light the second day’s candle. For the third, Rabbi Mendelsohn introduced Rabbi Moshe Halfon, who will soon lead the Mt. Sinai Congregation in Cheyenne.
Rabbi Mendelsohn joked that he is relieved to no longer be the only rabbi in the state.
Rabbi Halfon then grabbed his guitar and took the audience through three traditional upbeat Hanukkah songs: “Our Rock,” “We’ve Come to Chase Away the Darkness” and “I Have a Little Dreidel.”
In a spontaneous bout of celebration, Dick and Oberlander, dressed up as a menorah and a dreidel, respectively, began to dance as the audience clapped to the beat. After several bars, Rabbi Mendelsohn joined them, as well.