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Berks leaders light menorah in support of Jewish community

The fresh sufganiyot donuts were warm, but the solidarity was warmer at the first of two menorah lightings in Reading Thursday night.

About 75 people huddled outside around a giant menorah at the corner of Fifth and Penn streets, across from the Christmas tree that the city lit last week.

A menorah is lit on Reading's Penn Square for the first night of Hanukkah on Thursday. (BILL UHRICH - READING EAGLE)
A menorah is lit on Reading’s Penn Square for the first night of Hanukkah on Thursday. (BILL UHRICH – READING EAGLE)

The crowd sang Jewish songs and passed around donuts in keeping with the Hanukkah tradition of eating fried food in honor of the miracle of the temple oil.

Bill Franklin, former CEO of the Jewish Federation of Reading/Berks, said Hanukkah began in the second century B.C. after a small band of Jews repelled a tyrant’s attempt to forcibly convert them.

“The word ‘Hannukah’ means dedication,” Franklin said.

The Jews won against all odds, but upon entering their desecrated temple in Jerusalem, found that the supply of oil to light the temple’s lamps was nearly destroyed. Only one day’s supply was left.

Then a miracle occurred, Franklin said. Rather than burn out after a single day, the oil kept the temple lit for eight days — enough time to prepare more oil.

That miracle is celebrated each year at Hanukah with the lighting of the menorah for eight nights.

“The miracle of this oil symbolizes the greatest miracle of all — our survival from generation to generation,” said Andi Franklin, Bill Franklin’s wife. “During this festival of lights, we thank all of you for providing your friendship to ensure our Jeiwsh community survives.”

Gathering at Alvernia

The Franklins were the first of eight local leaders who each lit one candle on a small menorah during the second part of the night — an indoor ceremony dedicated to shining a light on antisemitism, hosted by Alvernia University CollegeTowne and the Jewish Federation.

“Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. said ‘darkness cannot fight darkness, only light cannot do that, hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that,’” said Stacey Taylor, head of the Reading branch of the NAACP. “Tonight we are all part of the process to create light.”

Taylor’s comments were echoed by the others who lit candles, including representatives from the Hispanic Center of Reading and Berks County, the LGBT Center of Greater Reading, Reading Mayor Eddie Moran, state Sen. Judy Schwank and state Rep. Johanny Cepeda-Freytiz.

Speakers emphasized the need for support of the Jewish community amid rising antisemitic sentiment and violence abroad and at home.

The rise in hate has been particularly stark since the Hamas attacks on Israel that claimed the lives of 1,200 Israelis, noted Amanda Hornberger, Jewish Federation chief operating officer.

“Just on Sunday, an Israeli American owned falafel restaurant in Philadelphia was targeted with antisemitic slogans and demonstrations simply because it was Jewish owned,” Hornberger said. “This is just one example of modern-day antisemitism in our own backyard.”

Those attacks become even more distressing amid attempts by some to disregard or minimize their severity, said Michael Fromm, former chair of the Federation and of the Alvernia board of trustees.

“All of this combined with the continued normalization of antisemitic tropes creates a toxic environment that threatens Jews as well as many other groups, and ultimately, our very democracy,” Fromm said.

Fromm thanked the federal, state, and local officials who have acted in support of the Jewish community.

He also noted that the Federation has launched an emergency relief campaign to raise funds that will go to over 100 organizations supporting the victims of the Oct. 7 attacks.

Fromm said the initiative has received more than $250,000 of its goal of $1 million, with every dollar donated being matched by the Federation.

Firsthand account

The impact of those attacks is especially familiar to Bill and Andi Franklin, who live in Israel for half the year and were there on Oct. 7.

Andi Franklin said that after the attacks, people came together in a way she’d never seen.

“We had roads closed off so we couldn’t leave … they couldn’t get food in for about two weeks,” Andi Franklin said. “But people were amazing. Everybody said, ‘What do you need, I’ve got extra food.’ It didn’t matter who you were, it was just ‘we’re in this together.’ That was unbelievable.”

The Franklins said the people of Israel have adapted to the harsh realities of the war, such as rockets overhead — something they witnessed for themselves.

“In Tel Aviv, you’ll be in a restaurant, all the sudden a siren will go off, and you’ll go to a safe room,” Bill Franklin said. “People are calmer now than they were. For the most part, the Iron Dome intercepts the missiles.”

Despite the threats, the Franklins said Israel maintains a uniquely magnetic culture that no place can match, and they can’t abandon — the Franklins said they plan to return in the coming months.

“There’s really no place like (Israel),” Andi Franklin said.

A menorah is lit on Reading’s Penn Square for the first night of Hanukkah on Thursday. (KEITH DMOCHOWSKI – READING EAGLE)

Source: Berkshire mont

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