Menorah lighting at Copley Square commemorates the life, freedom of Jewish people


People of Boston will be able to see the menorah day and night at Copley Square. Photo credits to Photo Phiend.

Erin Fine, News correspondent

Elected officials and Jewish community leaders gathered Sunday Dec. 6, the day before the end of Hanukkah, to light a 32-foot-tall menorah in Copley Square. Rabbi Mayer Zarchi of Central Synagogue Boston brought to life the image of the flames atop a menorah.

“Life is filled with fluctuations, but when you gaze at the flames, you also see a very deep tranquility and serenity, a silence of warmth and intimacy,” Zarchi said to the crowd. “It’s almost like the flames are inviting us to show up to life with full presence … to be able to appreciate life itself.”

Zarchi was joined by his wife Chenchie Zarchi, along with Gov. Charlie Baker and City Councilor Kenzie Bok. The group rode a bucket lift to light the menorah after sunset, passing a torch between them. In traditional fashion, the group lit the shamash — a candle meant for lighting that is separate from the other eight atop the menorah — first, then the rest of the candles from right to left; the direction Hebrew is read. The Berklee Music Ensemble led the crowd in song and prayer during the lighting.

Afterward, Baker spoke on the story of Hanukkah — the rebellion against oppressors of the Jewish people and the reconsecration of the Second Temple with the miracle of one night of oil lasting for eight. One important part of the story is its prevalence in modern times.

“Those candles which stand for and represent many things, but fundamentally are all about the right to practice your religion freely and without harm or persecution,” Baker said. “That struggle, especially for our friends and neighbors in the Jewish community, has been going on for thousands and thousands of years.” 

Last year, the Copley Square menorah was lit for each night of Hanukkah but without celebratory gatherings in accordance with the state’s COVID-19 guidelines. For Bok, the gathering was a reminder of Boston’s perseverance throughout the coronavirus pandemic.

“I was last up on this stage two years ago because we weren’t able to gather together last year,” Bok said. “I think that in that period … we’ve seen so many miracles of finding that actually our resources together have been enough, that we have pulled together and we have turned one night’s worth of oil into eight.”

Attendees of the menorah lighting were clearly excited that the celebration was back, accompanying the musicians in song and prayer with claps and dance. Children in puffy coats played together in front of the stage to classic Hanukkah songs including “S’vivon” and “Dreidel, Dreidel, Dreidel.”

Among the festivities, the large menorah acted as a statement on the importance of the freedom and safety for Jewish people to celebrate their religion publicly after a series of antisemitic incidents around Boston this year, including an attack on a rabbi and vandalism to Jewish centers. Baker stood by that statement, promising religious freedom.

“One of the reasons I make it a point to be here every year to celebrate this menorah is to make absolutely clear to everyone and anyone that here in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, we believe in people’s religious freedoms,” Baker said. “We believe in their right to practice their faith.”

In the spirit of Hanukkah, Zarchi spoke before the menorah as Copley Square darkened after sunset. In a year marked by turbulence for both the Jewish community and the wider world, Zarchi reminded the crowd that, as a candle, the only constant in life is change.

“In many ways, [the flame] represents our lives, which are always in a state of motion and movement,” Zarchi said.