“Peace, Love & Light on a Magical Hanukkah Night”, the City of Franklin’s first-ever public menorah lighting, lived up to its title. On Wednesday, December 13, over 300 people celebrated the seventh night of Hanukkah at Eastern Flank Battlefield Park with music, greetings from local politicians, lighting of a six-foot tall menorah, acknowledgement of the war in Israel, donuts, food trucks, and a sea of lights created by the menorahs lit by participants. The event was planned in less than a month by members of Jewish Franklin, TN, a Facebook group started by Ellen Monen in March. She, John Gimesh, and Erin Wood were the primary organizers. Gimesh served as the Master of Ceremonies for the evening.
Franklin Mayor Dr. Ken Moore was immediately supportive when approached by the group, and provided City resources for the event beyond those requested. On its own initiative, the City hung “Happy Hanukkah” banners throughout its historic district and community member Marsha Raimi offered the opening prayer at the Board of Mayor and Aldermen’s monthly meeting the night before the event (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RDralFKViCQ&t=265s at 1:30). Vice Mayor Matt Brown (Ward 2) represented Franklin at the candle lighting. He and Mayor Moore formed Unite Williamson, an organization of faith-based groups that seeks understanding of, and collaboration with, their neighbors. They see this first public celebration of the Jewish festival of lights as being in the spirit of that group, “An example of the heart of inclusion and unity in our community. We’re kindling the flames of hope, faith, and love, and compassion in our hearts and our community.” Aldermen Jason Potts (Ward 3) and Greg Caesar (At-Large) were present.
TN Senate Majority Leader Jack Johnson (R-Dist 27) greeted the group on behalf of the General Assembly and Governor, but mostly as a fellow citizen of Franklin, thanking those present for choosing to live in the city. State Representative Sam Whitson (R-Dist 65) was also present. Recorded greetings from US Senator Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) were posted to Jewish Franklin TN’s Facebook page after the event. Metro Nashville Councilman Jacob Kupin participated.
Rabbi Michael Danziger, Senior Rabbi of Temple Ohabai Shalom, led the ceremonial part of the evening. He began by noting that the park was the location of an historic battle of the American Civil War. He explained the victory of the Maccabees over King Antiochus and the Assyrians, and said, “We stand here on this old battlefield remembering a miraculous victory, a military victory for freedoms that resonate with us here in this country and that have resonated throughout the generations. Freedom of expression. Freedom of religion. Freedom of self-determination.”
Kupin explained why we light the menorah, and the debate about whether to add a candle each night or to subtract one. “… and Rabbi Hillel won the day, and we light one more each day so that the light is always increasing. And these lights remind us of miracles that we’ve enjoyed and for which we’re grateful. And for miracles yet to come, which we can be partners in creating. And these lights remind us to shed our own light. Lights of faith. Lights of hope. Lights of love. Of kindness. Of courage. Of strength. Of peace.” He introduced Rabbi Yitchok Teichtel to light the six-foot tall menorah loaned by his congregation, Chabad of Nashville.
Rabbi Teichtel offered brief comments about the war in Israel, explaining that five families from the kibbutz settlements had arrived in Nashville for seven weeks of respite, and were being taken care of by the entire community. He called on everyone present “to be lamplighters, to be people who create light, and share their goodness and kindness, because a little light can push out a lot of darkness”. He praised the members of Jewish Franklin for organizing the historic candle lighting. “This is what Jewish pride is all about. Am Yisrael Chai! The Jewish people live.” He guided Vice Mayor Brown in lighting the shamash, and then lit the remaining seven candles, while musician Dennis Scott played “Ma O Tzur” and “Oh Hanukkah.” Scott, a local Grammy-winning musician provided music throughout the evening, supported by sound and lighting produced by Michael Fair. Tennille Melcher, another founder and administrator of the Facebook group who’s hosted several events for the group, donated her photography skills.
Two families with close connections to the war in Israel were honored. Misty Grinberg’s husband Stas is a reservist who was called back to his IDF unit as soon as the war began. New to the Nashville area, she’s found support being a member of the Jewish Franklin group and posted a picture of his unit lighting their menorahs.
Eva Marks’ twenty-year-old granddaughter Rose Lubin was stabbed to death in the Old City of Jerusalem, where she was on duty serving as an IDF Border Police officer. Rose was recognized by the State of Israel with the “Hero of the World” award. Mrs. Marks will share her granddaughter’s full story at a future community event. There was a moment of silence, and after the ceremony, the crowd said Kaddish.
Many non-Jewish residents of Franklin attended the event to show support for their friends and neighbors. Katy and Will Dodson said, “We were very happy to attend the first Hanukkah ceremony in the City of Franklin. As Tennessee natives and Christians, we have felt the need to publicly stand in solidarity with the Jewish community through these difficult times. We stand united against hatred, terrorism.”
Ellen Monen, creator and administrator of Jewish Franklin, had high praise for the City of Franklin and the many volunteers who stepped forward: “I was blown away with the support of the group and City. Everything panned out with each taking their own role. There was cooperation across the spectrum of Judaism and support from every direction. The [Jewish] Federation [of Greater Nashville] was amazing – they provided over half the funding, advice, and their CEO Dan Horwitz came.” The city summed it up well on its Facebook page, “The festive evening was filled with light, joy, and community spirit. The music and inspiring messages created a vibrant celebration of culture and unity.”
For the full livestream of the event by Fox 17 News Nashville, go to: https://www.facebook.com/100064538897717/videos/341352901975698
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