Jewish community in Newton celebrates first night of Hanukkah with menorah lighting

NEWTON, Mass. — It’s the first night of Hanukkah and the Jewish community in Newton says that public displays of their faith are more important now than ever.

Although it seems security increases every year, so do the crowds from all faiths showing their support for the community. The start of a holiday filled with light that the crowd says comes at just the right time.

“To share and spread the light in this time of terrible darkness in the world and hatred,” said Itty Prus, the co-director of the Beth Menachem Chabad in Newton.

Police Lt. Bruce Apotheker lights the first candle of Hanukkah at the Beth Menachem Chabad every year. The lighting this year comes just weeks after a police detective was among four people killed in Jersey City during a shooting rampage that investigators say targeted a Jewish grocery store.

“We always see hatred and hatred is always going to be out there, but it’s when people get together and show strength in numbers and we see when a community comes together and just with law enforcement and representatives from the state, it puts people at ease,” Apotheker said.

The Chabad in Newton also has extra private security for events like these, where they invite anyone from any faith. It’s a balance of safety and inclusion.

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“Security is something we have to work on constantly,” said Rabbi Shalom Ber Prus of the Chabad. “And various measures, what you see and what you don’t see, to make sure that we are confident to have the crowds and [that] we are safe.

“Every year it seems like something happens […] it seems that there is an increase here in America.”

“We have seen a rise, not just in anti-Semitism but hate directed at a number of different groups,” said Middlesex DA Marian Ryan. “And that’s why these things are important, it’s very hard to commit acts of hate when you see people up close.

“Hanukkah is all about hope and light, and these are certainly days where we need both.”

“Hanukkah is a very special holiday,” said State Rep. Ruth Balser of Newton. “We celebrate the victory of a minority group in a larger community where we were threatened, and it’s a really a celebration of freedom of religion. And we are so fortunate in this country that we are allowed to flourish along with other faiths.”

And for the next week, they’ll focus on the light and not the darkness.

“You know the Jewish people, we may be targeted now but we are standing strong we are not giving up,” Itty Prus said.

The Chabad in Newton has been holding public menorah lightings for 20 years.