Perched atop a ladder, torch in hand, Idaho Congressman C.L. "Butch" Otter lit the first candle on a 10-foot aluminum menorah to kick off a public Hanukkah celebration in Downtown Boise on Thursday night.
"The story of Hanukkah is the first universal message of religious freedoms," said Rabbi Mendel Lifshitz of the Chabad Jewish Center of Idaho. "For Jews and non-Jews alike, Hanukkah is a tremendous opportunity for us to realize the blessing we have living in a democracy like this."
The celebration, organized by the Idaho Chabad, marked the fifth day of the eight-day Jewish holiday that celebrates the Jews´ victory over the Assyrian Greeks in 165 B.C. and the rededication of the Temple of Jerusalem. About 50 people attended the ceremony, which included music, traditional Hanukkah fare including potato pancakes called latkes and a video explaining the story of Hanukkah.
Aaron Sperry of Boise came with his wife and three young children and said that a history of religious persecution has meant Jews do not take for granted their right to worship openly .
"It´s a great display of the freedom that we have, that we are blessed to be able to unabashedly do this," he said.
Otter said that he "did a lot of homework" before the ceremony to learn more about the story of Hanukkah and that the display "brings the opportunity for understanding."
"It really demonstrates the diversity that isn´t always so obvious (in Idaho) and on public display," he said.
Lifshitz said the Hanukkah lights represent more than an ancient military victory.
"The beauty of the lights is that light has the capacity to bring people together," he said.
The basics of Hanukkah