Rabbi Mendel Rubashkin of Chabad of Brandon, at the menorah lighting at Westfield Brandon on Dec. 9, talked about the greater meaning of Hanukkah, which marks the miracle of oil enough to burn for one day, instead lasting for eight.
"It's a universal message, Chanukah, it doesn't have to be a religious one," he said. "Who doesn't oppose persecution, and support the rights of the minority, if they're being oppressed by the majority?"
Hanukkah, he added, "is about spreading the message of hope."
On hand to hear that message were members of the Valencia Lakes West Women's Club, who joined in front of the menorah with other members of the public to witness the lighting.
- See Menorah Lighting at Westfield Brandon (Photos)
"I love it," said Debbie Kassel, who moved to Florida from Los Angeles three years ago. "It's nice to have your culture celebrated in public."
The lighting in advance was promoted as a community celebration for "Hanukkah." At the event, materials for "Chanukah" were distributed.
Is there a preferred spelling?
The question caused a chuckle from the rabbi and this reply from attendee Ray Pinto: "There's no way to spell it wrong as long as you light the candles."
And that's what Rabbi Rubashkin did, after noting in an interview the reason for the season of celebration, heralding back more than 2,000 years, when battle technician Judah Maccabee out-maneuvered the Syrian Greeks to restore Jewish worship at the temple in Jerusalem.
"Miraculously, they won," Rubashkin said of the small band of Maccabees. "There was only oil enough for one night [of celebration], instead it lasted for eight," he added. "That's why Hanukkah is also called the Festival of Lights."
Marci Maddron, of Chabad of Brandon, was on hand to serve oil-fried potato latkes, a traditional Hanukkah dish, prepared by the rabbi's wife.
She said it was "tradition" that drew her to the event.
"My husband and I are from a mixed-marriage, so we like to include both traditions [Christmas and Hanukkah] in our household," she said.
She said she was glad the lighting was held in a large public square, in the Restaurant Courtyard at Westfield Brandon, next to the oversized wreath and much smaller collection of Christmas trees, because it "would encourage a larger Jewish community inolvement."
Also, that it would stand as a stark reminder to remember the reasons why people of all faiths celebrate their respective year-end holidays.
"Everything is so commercialized with Christmas, 'Santa this' and 'Santa that,' that we forget the meaning of all the holidays," she said. "It's not just about shopping and spending. It's about tradition and family spending time together."