First Signs of Chanukah

November 23, 2011 by Henry Benjamin
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The traditional lighting of the Menorah took place in the NSW State Parliament in Sydney last night.

Premier Barry O'Farrell pic: Henry Benjamin

Rabbi Feldman lights the Menorah

Although the latkes have yet to make their appearance, politicians and State identities were offered platefuls of doughnuts as they entered the function room in Parliament House.

The group heard a  message from NSW Jewish Board of Deputies president Yair Miller followed by an invocation from the Yeshiva’s Rabbi Pinchus Feldman who explained he was making a special blessing to light the Chanukiah almost one month ahead of time.

Messages to the community were delivered by Don Harwin the president of the Legislative Council and Speaker Shelley Hancock before Premier Barry O’Farrell, donning a red yarmulke took to the podium.

He reinforced the relationship between the State Government and the Jewish community highlighting the contribution the community had made to Australian society .

John Robertson, Rabbi Pinchus Feldman, Barry O'Farrell and Yair Miller

Greetings came, too, from John Robertson the Leader of the Opposition.

After all eight candles on the Menorah were lit by Rabbi Feldman, Chazan Yehoshua Niasoff sang “Maoz Tzur”.

For the community, and for State Parliament, the festive season has begun.

The following is the text of Premier O’Farrell’s address:

An early Chag Sameach.

Once again, I’m pleased to celebrate the festival of Chanukah with you.

As Rabbi Feldman has outlined, this time of the year is a joyous event in the Jewish calendar.

And for me, it always has a happy meaning.

I’ve been privileged many times to participate in the lighting of the menorah, both in my own community and here in the city.

Although I’ve been advised that, as Premier, I’m not allowed in a Chabad cherry picker without a harness!

By the way, you may have noticed I’m wearing my ecumenical red yamulka, but I’d like to reassure the rabbis here I’m not planning to follow in their clerical footsteps –although it may come in handy sometime with my own religious faith!

I know Chanukah is also the time when I have to resist the temptation of eating too many donuts and latkes.

Instead, it’s safer and less calorific to play the dreidel with my wife, Rosemary, my Eshet Chayil, and our sons, Tom & Will.

But this can be costly—having to give Chanukah gelt— but it does underscore a message of the season: the importance of charity and good deeds.

When it comes to dauntless spirit and might in the face of overwhelming odds, Chanukah is one of the world’s most inspiring sagas.

And when we speak about might and strength in Hebrew, the word used is interestingly “Oz”, which I’d like to think reflects a link with Australia.

It’s a fact that the Australian Jewish community has a proud history of loyalty and commitment dating back to the First Fleet, and has made—and continues to—makes an outstanding contribution to all facets of Australian life.

From my ongoing involvement in a wide range of Jewish community activities, I continue to learn and admire the strength and beauty of your traditions.

Each morning, for example, I believe you recite a bracha—a blessing which thanks God ―for giving the rooster understanding to distinguish between day and night.‖

Now for those who think this might be unusual compared to other blessings, there’s good reason for this which is relevant to our daily life.

As my Nationals and Liberals colleagues know roosters cleverly seem to sense
when dawn will break, as if they have an internal alarm clock—that even takes daylight saving into account!

We all can apply this to our own lives—with light each day symbolised by our peace of mind and clarity in our thinking.

But there also can be times of darkness, when we’re confronted by difficulties and challenges, of which the Jewish people are well aware, having suffered and endured in times of persecution through the ages.

So we can actually learn from the rooster that such problems or darkness will be soon be overcome and replaced by light and peace of mind.

This means we all should always be optimistic and thankful for what we have.

I can see my parliamentary colleagues from both sides of the House nodding in agreement.

I’ve always been impressed by the focus in Jewish life on the importance
of education, through teaching and nurturing each generation to be able to continue your beautiful traditions handed down since biblical times.

It’s fascinating, then, to find that the Hebrew word for education, “chinuch” shares the same roots as Chanukah, which we’re celebrating today.

And the menorah itself is more than a link with the story of the long-lasting oil of the Maccabees.

It’s a source of inspiration for the Jewish people and its lights have given the strength to persevere, even during such horrors as the Holocaust.

Today, the menorah is recognised as the symbol of the Jewish people’s love for liberty, something which Australia advocates strongly in our belief in freedom and respect for all religions, race and cultures.

It also is the emblem of the State of Israel, with whom I share your prayers that
there soon will be Shalom, the achievement of a true and lasting peace so as to be able to live in peace and security.

On that note, I ask you to join me in raising your glasses for L’Chaim . Am Yisroel Chai.


2 Responses to “First Signs of Chanukah”
  1. DavidL says:

    What an amazing speech by the Premier – a brilliant dvar Torah worthy of a rabbi!

  2. Rita says:

    Good for you, Premier !

    Eat your heart out, Lee Rhiannon ;P

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