WASILLA — Passersby on the Parks Highway will be seeing some new and unique lights by Wasilla Lake this week.

On Thursday, Dec. 3, Rabbi Mendy Greenberg of the Mat-Su Jewish Center and a volunteer from Chessed Alaska, a Jewish education group, met Wasilla Public Works employee Lynn Follett at Wasilla Lake to erect a nine-foot-tall metal menorah with electric lights.

It’s the first of its kind to be displayed at the lake, and will soon be joined by the more familiar nativity scene annually placed there by Butte residents Earl and Karen Lackey.

Karen Lackey said she thought it “marvelous” that the Jewish Center decided to contribute to the festive spirit at Wasilla Lake.

“If we can put snowmen and moose up there I think the rest of the community should be able to celebrate their season as well,” she said. Lackey said she and her husband took over the nativity display from the original Wasilla Rotary Club (now split into three separate clubs across the Valley) about 20 years ago. The figures have seen various transformations over the years, getting new paint jobs from the Lackeys and former Colony High School students, and finding a more weather-proof home in an old vinyl-covered van (which allows for easier transport and set-up, she said).

The Jewish Center’s celebration of Hanukkah will continue through the final day of the holiday, Dec. 14, with a special, public celebration on Wednesday, Dec. 9 in Palmer. The menorah will be temporarily relocated to the Palmer Depot that evening, where event attendees can experience a free (or by donation) Israeli-style buffet, an olive pressing demonstration, a dreidel bounce house and other activities, starting at 5:30 p.m.

Joan Patterson, administrative assistant for Palmer’s Department of Community Development, said she thought she could recall another Jewish event having taken place at the depot, but wasn’t sure when, or exactly what it was.

Patterson said that the depot has seen just about every kind of event, from meetings and award ceremonies to birthday parties, weddings, elections and film festivals.

“If you can do it in 3,000 square feet, you can do it at the depot,” she said.

Wasilla Mayor Bert Cottle and Palmer Mayor DeLena Johnson have been invited to speak at the event.

Mayor Johnson said she was excited to attend the event. She hasn’t attended a Hanukkah celebration before, but thought it would be a good addition to Palmer’s holiday festivities.

“It’s a special time of year for a lot of people in a lot of different ways, and its just another thing that adds to this season,” she said.

Cottle declined to comment about the event other than to say he had been invited.

Greenberg said the Hanukkah celebration is particularly significant this year, which happens to be Hakhel — the year after the sabbatical or seventh year (also the first of the next seven-year cycle) during which Jews around the world have gathered together since ancient times to receive divine inspiration.

“The point was to relive the giving of the 10 commandments at Mt. Sinai and to unite all together to celebrate when we became a nation,” Greenberg said.

Hanukkah is also a celebration of Israel, its people and their God. Upon returning to their holy temple after a Greek invasion, as the story goes, a group of Jews called Maccabees found only enough pure oil to light the menorah for one night.

Miraculously, the candelabra burned for eight days.

“To commemorate that miracle, we light the candles for eight days,” Greenberg said.

The candle flames also illustrate the ability for even just one light to penetrate the darkness, and how a little bit of good can shine through the bad, he said.

Greenberg emphasized that the Hanukkah celebration is not a synagogue service, but focuses more on simply “spreading kindness and goodness,” as well as observing freedom of religion and speech.

“Everyone’s invited, whoever wants to see and participate and be a part of it,” Greenberg said.

Chaplain Ruthann Cleeves said that’s in line with Chessed Alaska’s educational philosophy.

“The motto for Chessed is that wisdom and knowledge brings understanding and tolerance,” she said.

Cleeves said it has been her impression that Alaska has always been a “very tolerant” state, but all countries could be more so.

“With everything that’s going on in the world, it’s needed that we understand each other more, that we have a dialogue and communicate, versus just drawing assumptions of each other,” she said.

For more information about Hanukkah and the Jewish faith, stop by the Palmer Depot on Wednesday around 5:30 p.m., or visit chabad.org.

Contact reporter Caitlin Skvorc at 352-2266 or caitlin.skvorc@frontiersman.com.

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