A Jewish organization that made its return to the Northland a couple of months ago will announce its presence in a big way on Sunday.
"We're not hiding our Judaism," said Rabbi Mendy Ross, leader of Chabad of Duluth. "That's our thing. Everything is big. Go big or go home."
Thus, Chabad of Duluth will light a 6-foot Chanukah menorah at 4 p.m. at Miller Hill Mall to kick off the eight-day celebration. It will begin two hours of festivities with arts and crafts for kids, refreshments, music and dancing.
The holiday, also known as the Festival of Lights, commemorates a Jewish victory over oppressors in 140 BC and the miraculous provision of oil so that the menorah in Jerusalem's temple could be lit.
It's a joyous occasion worth sharing with the community, Ross said.
"We light the candles," he said. "We eat doughnuts and latkes. ... We'll go to people's houses and we'll sing and we'll dance. It's just a very festive holiday."
"He sent messengers around the world to strengthen Judaism," Ross said. "Today, there's over 5,000 Chabad representatives all over the world."
Ross, 26, came to Duluth from New York a couple of months ago with his wife, Tirtza, and their children Meir, 2, and Chaya, 1. After being ordained a few years ago, Ross had been looking for an assignment. Duluth, which hasn't had a Chabad in about eight years, was available.
Chabad of Duluth acts independently, Ross said, although it's affiliated with Chabad in the Twin Cities. As an orthodox Jew, Ross isn't directly connected with Duluth's Temple Israel, he said. But Chabad seeks to serve all branches of Judaism.
"That's why we're here, to help the local Jewish people," Ross said. "A Jew is a Jew. Anybody who is Jewish is welcome."
Ross and his family make a point of being visibly Jewish. He wears a yarmulke when he's out and about. A menorah is affixed to the roof of their van. Once Chanukah begins, Ross can make it light up - one light on the first night, two on the second, and so on.
"Sometimes when you're driving, people think it's a taxi," he said.
Ross was saddened but not deterred by the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting on Oct. 27 in which 11 worshipers were killed.
"Throughout our history, unfortunately, not everybody likes us, to put it mildly," he said. "But we're proud to be Jewish. We feel it's important that we don't answer the hate by going into hiding, because then they're winning."
The menorah that will be lit at the Miller Hill Mall was homemade out of PVC pipes in Ross' hometown in New Jersey. It can be lit either electronically or with candles shielded in hurricane lamps.
On Sunday, the lamp on top and the lamp on the far right will be lit. The lights being lit during the darkest season of the year symbolize the Jewish response to events such as the Pittsburgh killings, Ross said.
"You can't chase away darkness with a stick," he said. "It doesn't happen. But one light could shed a lot of darkness."
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