Mayor joins St Albans Jewish community to light festival candles in city centre
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Wednesday 8th December 2021

After the pandemic prevented last year’s annual lighting of a giant Chanukiah in the centre of St Albans, the local Jewish community were once again able to enjoy their now traditional public celebration of the festival of Chanukah, also known as the Festival of Lights.   The ceremony, organised by St Albans United Synagogue, took place at the Clock Tower on the last night of the festival (December 5, 2021);  those lighting candles included the Mayor of St Albans, Cllr Edgar Hill, as well as Canon Kevin Walton from St Albans Cathedral and representatives of other local Jewish communities.

A large crowd gathered to watch as the candles were lit on a six-foot high Chanukiah (nine-branched candelabrum), under the guidance of the synagogue’s minister, Rabbi Daniel Sturgess, whose 10-year-old son Yeshaya was also given the honour of lighting a candle.       Because it was the final night of the eight-day festival (starting from one candle, plus the shamash – meaning helper or servant - used to light all the other candles, an extra candle is added each night), all of the nine candles were lit.    And with the formal part of the event over, all stayed to enjoy the free doughnuts, traditionally eaten by Jews at Chanukah, handed out by synagogue members.

In his address, Rabbi Sturgess explained that Chanukah celebrates a time over 2,000 years ago when the Jewish people regained the freedom to practise their faith after its practice was outlawed by the Syrian-Greek empire around 165 BCE.   “2000 years was a long time ago,” he went on.  “Yet we find that the messages of Chanukah – messages of gratitude for the freedom to practice our faith, gratitude for all the blessings we have in our lives – are as relevant now as they ever were.    Religious freedom is not something we take for granted in the UK in 2021, and we, the Jewish community of St Albans, don’t take it for granted that we can hold a public event like this with the support, blessing and indeed protection of the wider community.   

“And not only does Chanukah remind us to be grateful for all that we have in our lives, but it also reminds us to be a light in the world and to spread kindness and light wherever we go,” he added.

The Mayor offered his thanks for the cordial welcome he had received – including a much-needed warming cup of coffee against the adverse weather – both on this occasion, and also when he had attended the very recent event at St Albans United Synagogue to join the celebrations for its 70th anniversary. “It is great to have this spirit of inclusion in St Albans,” he commented.

By Jeanette Grenby