'Light over darkness': Arlington Heights celebration ushers in Hanukkah
As darkness crept in over North School Park in Arlington Heights, a group gathered around a menorah chanted the Hanukkah prayers in Hebrew.
Then Rabbi Yaakov Kotlarsky, rabbi and co-director of the Chabad Jewish Center of Arlington Heights, kindled the menorah lights, welcoming the eight-day festival of Hanukkah.
It was the fourth annual public celebration of the festival in Arlington Heights, marking the triumph of a small band of Jews known as the Maccabees over Syrian-Greek oppressors who had prevented them from practicing their faith more than 2,100 years ago. They reclaimed and rededicated the Holy Temple and, when they lit the menorah, oil expected to last one day miraculously lasted for eight.
Kotlarsky told the crowd assembled in the park that Sunday's celebration was a triumph of "light over darkness, freedom over oppression."
"Today we are very fortunate to be able to celebrate together in person in a very public fashion," he added.
The crowd at the park braved chilly temperatures to munch on potato latkes, listen to festive music and dance. Tables were piled with refreshments, along with menorahs and candles for people to take home.
Guests also posed for pictures in front the menorah, which contains a magnetic message board offering holiday greetings.
Arlington Heights Mayor Thomas Hayes and members of the village board joined the celebration, along with state Sen. Ann Gillespie, state Rep. Mark Walker and Wheeling Township Elementary School District 21 board member Arlen Gould.
Hayes called the Chabad Jewish Center a big part of the community.
"We consider ourselves a very welcoming community that is home to many different faiths and religions," he said.
Among those enjoying the celebration was Judy Locher of Arlington Heights, who was there with sons Ben, 4, and Brian, 7, and her mother, Rose Pike, a 28-year resident of Arlington Heights.
"We're excited that Arlington Heights is one of the only communities to have a Hanukkah festival," Locher said. "Many people from local communities are coming here to Arlington Heights to celebrate today."
Locher said the Chabad has been especially generous in helping her niece, who lives with a rare CDKL5 deficiency disorder and is frequently hospitalized.
"The Chabad provides food and a community of support," she said.