It was a historic moment for the P.E.I. Jewish community as they lit their first public menorah on the lawn of the provincial legislature to celebrate 120 years as part of the province, and to mark the first day of Hanukkah.
More than 60 members of the community gathered in Charlottetown to see the first light on an almost three-metre electric menorah on Sunday evening.
“It’s historic. It’s, in a sense, a coming out public party of Jews of Prince Edward Island,” said Martin Rutte, a member of the Jewish community.
“I cannot tell you how excited I was.”
Hanukkah commemorates the rededication of the second Jewish Temple in Jerusalem, and the recovery of Jerusalem from the Seleucid Empire in the second century BC. The menorah has eight electric candles and one service light. Each night another light will come on at sundown until the menorah is fully lit on the last day of Hanukkah.
“In 1898 there was actually a Jewish store across the street on Grafton. And for that man to have thought from 1898 to 2021 there would actually be a public menorah lighting on the legislative grounds of the P.E.I. Legislature is beyond belief,” Rutte said.
The holiday is rooted in the story of Jews running out of oil for their menorah and only finding what they thought was enough for one day but it lasted eight days, which turned into the celebration of the festival of lights: Hanukkah, Rutte said.
“At the end of the eight days we grow the amount of light that goes out in the world,” he said.
“What a wonderful symbolism, not only for the Jewish community, but for the world entirely, to light up the world.”
Rutte said he got support for the event from Green MLA Hannah Bell, who helped arrange the participation of Premier Dennis King. King spoke at the event, encouraging the Jewish community to eat more latkes, a traditional potato pancake, given the current fresh potato trade suspension with the U.S.
No synagogue on P.E.I.
Community member Joseph Glass is working on a book about the Jewish history on P.E.I. The community has grown to more than 200, he said.
“The Jewish community has always gone through various issues. On one hand there was antisemitism going back, and there probably is still a bit around, but at the same time the Jewish community has been evolving, growing,” he said.
Jewish people on P.E.I. now feel more comfortable displaying their religion and Glass said the public lighting of the menorah is a culmination of that.
“What was really fantastic was the parents bringing out their children,” he said.
“Kids running around, all able to see this wonderful event and hopefully they will come back every year and be part of the lighting ceremony.”
Though the Jewish community still finds ways to pray together there is no synagogue on P.E.I. — something Glass said would take a lot of work to establish.
“We’ll slowly build up and maybe one day we will build a synagogue and a cemetery, but at the moment our plans are just let’s keep growing and see where we can go with this.”
The menorah will stay up until Dec. 6, the last day of the holiday.