LIHUE — Sunday marked the first night of Hanukkah, and Kauai’s Jewish community celebrated by lighting a tiki torch menorah on the lawn of the Historic County Building.
“The essence of Hanukkah is spreading light — dispelling darkness,” Rabbi Michoel Goldman of Chabad Kauai said to a crowd of about 30, gathered in a semi-circle on the county building’s front lawn.
Goldman said this is the 13th year a tiki torch menorah has been lit on Kauai. He called it a “beautiful blend” of Polynesian and Jewish cultures.
“It’s become a hit,” he said.
The ten-foot tall menorah will stand for the next eight nights as a symbol of Jewish tradition, surrounded by Christmas lights wrapped around nearby tree trunks and strung across the county building’s facade.
Goldman spoke about the longstanding Jewish tradition of lighting a menorah in public places and spoke about the ongoing struggle for the right to display the symbol in communal spaces across the country.
Menorahs in town squares and in front of county government buildings have sparked disputes and court cases that reached the U.S. Supreme Court on more than one occasion.
But Goldman said the tradition is one of peace. In the way the middle candle of the menorah — the shamash — lights each subsequent candle, Goldman said the spirit of Hanukkah “starts with one small act of kindness.”
The flame of the menorah also holds a special significance for Kauai right now, Goldman said, coinciding with the “passing of the torch” in county government, as the newly-elected mayor and county council members prepare for their inauguration Monday.
“And I’m very proud to have one of our fellow brothers serving on the County Council,” he said, looking at newly-elected County Councilman Luke Evslin, who stood at the side of the crowd.
Goldman said that it was appropriate that the shamash — known as the service candle — be lit by a public servant and invited County Attorney Mauna Kea Trask to do the honors.
Trask said that as a Native Hawaiian who believes in social justice, he has tremendous respect for the Jewish people, what they have been through and what their struggle has done for human rights all over the world.
Trask then handed the shamash over to Evslin. “The magic of Hanukkah is that a little oil can go a long way,” Evslin said, referencing the holiday’s origin story. “And a small population can do great things.”
Goldman compared Evslin to Joseph in the Torah and the Bible’s Old Testament, who he described as the first Jew to hold public office and do so “with absolute integrity, transparency and success.”
“I have no doubt that he’s going to go very far, like Joseph, and rise in the ranks,” Goldman said.
Evslin lit the first candle of Hanukkah. The small crowd applauded and headed over to a table where Latkas were being served.
“I Have a Little Dreidel” started playing, and they ate and talked in the early evening under the light of the menorah. Behind them, a Christmas celebration was beginning at the county building’s front door.