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Hanukkah celebrated in the Castro

by David-Elijah Nahmod

Around 100 people joined Castro Merchants and Congregation Sha'ar Zahav, San Francisco's LGBT temple, for a Hanukkah menorah lighting in Jane Warner Plaza.

The event took place Wednesday, December 13, the second night of Hanukkah.

Also known as the Festival of Lights, Hanukkah commemorates the battle waged between the Jewish people and the Syrians, who tried to force them to give up their culture. Led by Judah the Maccabee, the Jews defeated one of the most powerful armies on Earth and reclaimed their Holy Temple in Jerusalem. There was only enough oil in the temple to light its menorah - the seven-branched candelabrum - for one day, yet the menorah burned for eight days. To commemorate this miracle, Jews light candles and exchange gifts for eight days.

"I'm so proud to be sponsoring this third candle-lighting," said Daniel Bergerac, president of Castro Merchants. "Please remember to shop small and to remember the merchants - without them there would be no Castro."

Bergerac then introduced Rabbi Mychal Copeland of Congregation Sha'ar Zahav.

"I'm thrilled to be here," Copeland, who's a lesbian, said. "We light these candles when our days are short. When we have a lot of dark, we light up."

The rabbi also alluded to the current political situation, referring to President Donald Trump without mentioning his name. "We have to keep trying and pushing and never despair," she said. "We must never forget the story of Hanukkah - we must light that first candle."

Rafael Mandelman, a gay man who's a City College of San Francisco trustee and District 8 supervisor candidate, mentioned the grief many were feeling over the unexpected death of San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee the day before.

"Yesterday was a nuts day. It started with a sadness that reminded us of our mortality," he said, referring to Lee, who was 65. He then noted the stunning victory of Doug Jones (D) against anti-gay Roy Moore (R) in the special Alabama Senate race later that same day.

"I'm hopeful that things will change," Mandelman said as he asked the crowd to join him in a moment of silence for Lee.

Gay state Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) also addressed the crowd.

"It's an honor to represent this community," Wiener said. "Thank you for this honor. We must show the country what love and diversity is. That's what Hanukkah is about - having the tenacity to win."

Copeland then lit the candles as she made the traditional Hebrew blessings. Two candles were lit for the second night. After the candle-lighting, sweet pastries were served as Sha'ar Zahav's cantor, Sharon Bernstein, backed by Gay Izmar, the synagogue's in-house Klezmer band, sang Hanukkah songs in both Hebrew and English.

A number of people danced to the music.

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