Menorah lighting begins Hanukkah celebration in Olympia

A menorah lighting was held Tuesday night in downtown Olympia to celebrate the arrival of Hanukkah.

Sponsored by the Chabad Jewish Discovery Center, the free annual event brought nearly 150 people to Sylvester Park to mark the start of the Jewish holiday.

Mayor Stephen Buxbaum was a special guest for the lighting of an electric 9-foot menorah. The mayor lighted the shamash candle, which is used to light the other candles in a traditional menorah, by screwing in the bulb. Also participating was The Evergreen Jewish Student Union, whose members lighted the first candle. Attendees also celebrated with Hanukkah songs and food.

“Hanukkah has a universal message, which is freedom of religion and freedom of expression,” Rabbi Cheski Edelman told The Olympian. “That’s a message that needs to be in the public sphere.”

This year, Hanukkah started Tuesday and will end Dec. 24. The holiday begins on the 25th day of Kislev, which is a month in the Hebrew lunar calendar, but the date can fall anytime from late November to late December on the Western calendar.

Hanukkah dates back 165 B.C. to the rededication of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem — and the triumph of a Jewish revolt against oppression by the Greek Empire.

Hanukkah customs commemorate a miracle that took place as the Jewish rebels rebuilt the Holy Temple, when a one-day supply of oil kept the temple lighted for eight nights, giving them time to find more oil.

On each night of Hanukkah, a new candle on the menorah is lighted. Holiday traditions include eating fried foods such as latkes and doughnuts, and children also play games with a four-sided top called a dreidel.

An estimated 4.3 million adults in the U.S. identify as Jewish by religion, and the total U.S. Jewish population including children is estimated at 7.1 million, according to the American Jewish Population Project, which released its 2013 estimates this week. Washington state’s Jewish population is estimated at about 41,000 adults by religion, according to the study, with fewer than 1,300 in Thurston County, or about 0.5 percent of the county population.