PANAMA CITY BEACH – Rabbi Mendel Havlin of the Panama City Beach Chabad says Chanukah is more than just a holiday.
It is a celebration of life and freedom.
On the occasion of the eight-day Jewish holiday which runs from Sunday to December 6, Havlin and members of his local synagogue hosted the third annual Grand Menorah lighting event on Monday evening at Pier Park.
There, along with the sounds and smells of Jewish music and food, dozens of people gathered to watch Havlin – with the help of PCB Mayor Mark Sheldon – light up a 12-foot-high menorah located near the entrance to the Grand Theater.
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âI am very heartwarming to see so many people (coming to celebrate), not only from the Jewish community, (but) also people who are not Jewish,â Havlin said. “People feel a (connection) with the Hanukkah message, which is about light.”
Sheldon, who along with Havlin used a scissor lift to light the menorah, said âit’s always greatâ when people from different walks of life come together in their community.
Like Havlin, he said the event was about “faith, hope and unity.”
âWhen you see the church together and you see all the families together and you see the celebration they are having, it just gives you a good spirit and you feel the (holiday) seasons are intact,â said Sheldon. “It’s just a good night.”
Among those who attended the event, South Walton resident Sarah Jarnicki said the night was not only a chance to celebrate Hanukkah, but also a chance to meet new people who share the Jewish faith and appreciate the freedoms that come with being a US Resident.
Jarnicki, who added that she is always looking for her way in the local Jewish community, noted that she had recently moved from Cincinnati, Ohio, as “one of the many people who decided to come to Florida” during the pandemic. of COVID-19.
âWe’re partying (and) it’s awesome,â she said. âWe are all Americans and we value freedom.â¦ This is so much the subject of Chanukah. We see the gifts and how it can look like Christmas in some waysâ¦ but it’s really about freedom. , to feel alive and be grateful for all that we are able to do. “
The festival also brought together non-Jewish locals, including Stephanie Carpenter from Youngstown, who said she was there to support her Jewish friends.
Although the Jewish religion does not recognize Jesus Christ as the Messiah, Carpenter said that as a Christian, she can still appreciate religion because both share the same God.
âWe have a lot of Jewish friends so we love to celebrate the holidays with them,â Carpenter said. âWe are Christians, but we also follow a lot of Jewish principles.
… No matter their way of life, our way of life, we are like family. “