Jackson’s Jewish community gathers to celebrate Hanukkah

Residents shine a light, one candle at a time, after two months of difficult emotions over the Israel-Hamas war.
Two children light a menorah at the Jackson Hole Jewish Community’s Hanukkah gathering. While some Jewish people light the candles in ascending order, some choose instead to light all eight on the first night and extinguish them one at a time over the course of the eight-day holiday. (Kieran Hadley/KHOL)

by | Dec 12, 2023 | Religion

Jewish residents recently gathered in Jackson to celebrate their faith and support one another during two events this Hanukkah season.  

The Jackson Hole Jewish Community hosted an “apres-ski” party Friday evening, the second night of Hanukkah, at the Jackson Conference Center. About 100 people celebrated the holiday with latkes and dance amidst joyful Klezmer music.

Partygoers young and old delighted in dancing the hora at Friday night’s Hanukkah party. (Kieran Hadley/KHOL)

On Saturday, members of the Chabad Lubavitch of Wyoming gathered in the town square to light a large menorah, sing traditional songs and give children candy.

“It’s beautiful to watch our community be in perfect harmony, just dancing together and singing and eating,” said nine-year-old Eva Goldstein.

An emotional two months

The two events signaled an effort by the Jewish community to use Hanukkah to bring joy and hope to a time that has been fraught with pain, anger, and anxiety about the situation in the Middle East and the political fallout of the Israel-Hamas War at home.

Rabbi Zalman Mendelsohn and other community members light the second candle on a huge menorah in the Jackson Town Square. (Kieran Hadley/KHOL)

Some Jewish residents, like Judd Grossman, a local musician and song and prayer leader for the Jackson Hole Jewish Community, said they are approaching the holiday with a heightened sense of purpose this year. 

“With a little more poignancy, a little more meaning to connect to our heritage and people in Israel and Jews throughout the world,” Grossman said. 

Lay Rabbi Josh Kleyman dances the hora. Kleyman was a prominent member of Friday night’s Hanukkah party, welcoming guests, giving speeches and organizing the menorah lightings. (Kieran Hadley/KHOL)

Members across Jackson’s Jewish communities and beyond participated in a vigil following Hamas’ attack in early October. Over the past month, a Jewish resident has also been hosting pro-Palestine rallies each Saturday on the town square, asking residents to educate themselves on the conflict. 

“I think there are a lot of folks who are feeling a lot of emotion, who are feeling a lot of pain after October 7, and those feelings remain,” said Jackson Hole Jewish Community Lay Rabbi Josh Kleyman. “The whole idea of Hanukkah is to bring light into darkness. And I think there is a desire to do that work.” 

Speaking to the crowd at the conference center Friday, Kleyman said, “If you look around the room, you can see beloved community members who are doing that work to bring connection and light into our world. That gives me hope.” 

‘Rededicate ourselves to light’

At Saturday night’s menorah lighting in the square, children sipped hot chocolate while community leaders such as Rabbi Zalman Mendelsohn spoke on the meaning of Hanukkah. (Kieran Hadley/KHOL)

On Saturday, Chabad Rabbi Zalman Mendelsohn said it’s been a difficult couple of months for Jewish communities worldwide.

“It’s been tough,” Mendelsohn said. “There’s certainly a lot of anxiety going on within the Jewish community. But on the whole, the attitude is that we need to stand strong and proud and we need to be ourselves.” 

Mendelsohn said the history of the holiday, which commemorates the rededication of the Jewish temple in Jerusalem after it was ransacked by the Greeks thousands of years ago, feels especially relevant for many following the Oct. 7 attacks.

“Today we have Hamas which seeks to destroy, dismantle and take away the potential for a Jewish future,” Mendelsohn told the crowd at Saturday’s menorah lighting. “And so we rededicate ourselves to light. We will not be cowered by terrorism. We will not lose our faith.”

Mendelsohn said he felt Hanukkah was especially important this year. In the days leading up to the holiday, he shipped out menorahs to every Jackson Hole resident, some 13,000 in total. He said he hopes Jackson residents will post about their menorahs to bring awareness and support to the community.

Members of Jackson’s Jewish community gathered to sing traditional songs on Saturday night. (Kieran Hadley/KHOL)

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