CHEYENNE — For the last 17 years, Wyoming residents have gathered at the State Capitol to celebrate the Jewish tradition of Chanukah, but Monday’s event was different.
Many of those at this year’s gathering said they were driven to attend by a sense of duty to show solidarity with Israel in its ongoing war with Hamas terrorists.
Around 150 people packed into the Capitol for the event that was attended by Gov. Mark Gordon, Secretary of State Chuck Gray, six state legislators from both the Democratic and Republican parties and the Cheyenne Youth Symphony. A member of Gordon’s staff and Rabbi Zalman Mendelsohn of the Chabad Jewish Center of Jackson told Cowboy State Daily it was the largest attendance for the event in its 17-year history.
“It shows the fact that our state stands with Israel,” Gordon told Cowboy State Daily of the turnout. “It shows the importance that celebrating can have for hope in very dark times.”
Gordon was presented with a painting of a lion by Rabbi Yaakov Raskin of the Chabad Lubavitch of Laramie Jewish temple. Raskin said the symbolism of the painting is that the lion is seen as the king of the animal kingdom, and therefore a leader.
“Thank you for your leadership in the state of Wyoming,” Raskin told Gordon.
Wyoming Stands Up
Gordon said it takes courage to stand against hate, a challenge Wyomingites readily accept.
Mendelsohn said one of his mentors instilled in him the mission to disperse menorahs all around the world to respond to hatred and discrimination against the religion.
In recent weeks, Mendelsohn and other volunteers have dispersed 13,000 menorahs around Teton County to help locals show solidarity with Israel, an effort he said cost around $50,000. He said many people who aren’t Jewish have still put them up in their windowsills as a statement of solidarity.
“Wyoming has the greatest people in the nation,” he said. “Whether you’re left, center or right, what matters most is that we are a one-of-a-kind state.”
State Sen. Tara Nethercott, R-Cheyenne, isn’t Jewish either, but said she was motivated to come out Monday because of the war in Israel and after receiving an invitation from an Israeli national, Matani Ravenna, who recently moved to Wyoming and was one of the lead organizers of this year’s event.
“During these times, it’s particularly important, I think, that Wyoming sticks together and stands with Israel,” she said.
Importance Of Chanukah
Ravenna also spoke at the event, saying he’s lost count of how many friends and family have already died in the recent war. He spoke to the importance of Chanukah and what it symbolizes.
“It shows every year how a candle can light up a whole room,” he said.
Rep. Daniel Singh, R-Cheyenne, was at the Capitol and drew a comparison to the Israel war and a recent effort by Venezuela to annex ⅔ of the land of neighboring Guyana as an escalating trend of countries not respecting international borders. Singh’s family is from Trinidad and Tobago, about 7 miles off the coast of Guyana.
“It’s very important to consider our relations in terms of the international community,” he said.
Toward the end of the event, Raskin and Gordon lit a menorah, which now has five of its eight candles lit to represent the eight days of Chanukah.
“Just as the menorah is lit one candle at a time, we all should strive to kindle a flame of compassion, unity and tolerance, one person at a time, and I think that is core to the message of Chanukah,” Raskin said.
Past To Present
Mendelsohn also compared the origins of Chanukah and the current war in Israel, which started as a result of a terroristic attack from Hamas on Oct. 7. The holiday draws its inspiration from when Antiochus seized the Second Temple in Jerusalem.
The Maccabees fought back against their oppressors and rekindled their menorah in the temple.
“Today, we once again are confronted by a group of oppressors who seek to dismantle, destroy, dismember and massacre the Jewish people,” he said. “Today, they are not the Syrian Greeks, they are known as Hamas.”
Gordon said the origins of Chanukah should remind people to light their own lives to blank out darkness.
Mendelsohn told the story of a 12-year-old Israeli boy who returned home during the early days of the war to find most of his immediate family murdered. The boy’s grandfather, who was a survivor of Auschwitz at the age of 14, also survived the recent attack. The grandfather shared with his grandson this similar struggle and told him he had a beautiful future ahead of him.
“This is the call of the hour today,” he said. “This is what each of us need to be thinking about on this Chanukah. What can I do in my life not to respond to fear? Not to respond with despair, but rather to respond with life and hope?”
Leo Wolfson can be reached at Leo@CowboyStateDaily.com.