It wasn’t lost on Molly Cohen that Martinez’s first menorah lighting ceremony was happening both underneath the city’s public Christmas tree, and next to “Santa’s House,” a red cottage where Kris Kringle sits with kids for photos.
“It all helps build community, and people know there are Jewish people in Martinez,” said Cohen, one of about 120 people who turned out recently for this city’s first-ever menorah lighting observance on the Main Street Plaza downtown. “People think there aren’t Jewish people here.”
The menorah is a part of the eight-day Hanukkah observance, which concludes Dec. 30. It has nine lights, the ninth serving to light the other eight, one per night of Hanukkah.
Rabbi Daniel Stein of Congregation B’nai Shalom in Walnut Creek, who led the gathering in songs, said the Martinez menorah lighting is an outreach to the community, Jewish and otherwise.
“We’re the only ‘conservative’ synagogue in Contra Costa County, and we’re seeing people coming from Danville and Alamo and Martinez and Pittsburg,” Stein said. “And we were thinking Martinez would be a great place to do this.”
The menorah is co-sponsored by Congregation B’nai Shalom and by Main Street Martinez.
Asserting its place in the community has been made more important, Stein said, by increasing anti-Semitism in the United States and elsewhere in recent years.
While Concord, Lafayette and Walnut Creek have hosted menorah lightings in recent years, Monday’s was Martinez’s first such event.
Sanford and Marcy Zimmerman recently moved to Martinez from Oakland, and were heartened to see Martinez host a lighting ceremony.
“It certainly makes us feel more welcome in the community to see this happening,” Sanford Zimmerman said.
Marcy Zimmerman added, “Exposure is one of the best answers to anti-Semitism … and all these people here is a good thing.”
A “candle” — an electric light bulb, actually — on the Martinez Menorah is being illuminated for each of eight consecutive nights, though the singing, food treats and kids’ games were set for the first night only. Stein said he would like to do this again in Martinez, and more cities, in coming years.
“The menorah itself is rather expensive … but we’d love to,” he said.