The majority of the crowd that gathered in downtown Tucson for the 28th annual Chanukah menorah lighting at El Presidio Park was not aware that it was a homecoming of sorts for the newly-elected Mayor Jonathan Rothschild.

When he emerged in the late-afternoon shadow cast by City Hall and the Old County Courthouse for the Dec. 20 ceremony, Rothschild was honored with kindling the first flame of the Arizona city’s tallest menorah, a 13-foot-tall candelabra sponsored by Chabad-Lubavitch of Tucson. The event harkened back to the mayor’s first such gathering.

“It was a great honor and privilege to be asked to light the menorah in Presidio Park on the first night of Chanukah,” said Rothschild. “It did bring back memories of the lighting that first year in 1983. Then, I was there as an attorney and community activist who helped get the menorah established in the park. Now, I come back much older, and was so thrilled to see so many young people from around the country participating and enjoying Tucson, outdoors, in December, singing and enjoying our Festival of Lights.”

Rabbi Yossie Shemtov, director of Chabad-Lubavitch of Tucson, first introduced the gold-colored nine-branched steel candelabra as part of the Chabad-Lubavitch movement’s global campaign to publicize the Chanukah miracle more than 2,000 years ago when the Jewish Maccabees defeated their Syrian-Greek rulers and rededicated the Holy Temple in Jerusalem using a lone jar of unblemished oil that lasted for eight days.

Today, public menorah lightings can be found outside the White House in Washington, D.C., in London’s Trafalgar Square, and in state capitols and cities large and small throughout the world.

Mayor Jonathan Rothschild lights the Tucson menorah.
Mayor Jonathan Rothschild lights the Tucson menorah.

In Tucson, attendees of the mayoral lighting included 70 children taking part in the Arizona Shluchim Camp, a program in the mountain town of Oracle for the sons and daughters of Chabad-Lubavitch emissaries living outside established Jewish communities. After the lighting, local businessman and philanthropist Bruce Ash handed out Chanukah gelt to celebrants.

As he headed back to work holding latkes and jelly doughnuts, the traditional fried foods commemorating the Chanukah miracle of the oil, Rothschild told Shemtov and Rabbi Yehuda Ceitlin, director of development for Chabad-Lubavitch of Tucson, that the party was a hit.

“It [was] so heartening,” he said. “Keep up the good work.”

Throughout the holiday, Chabad-Lubavitch of Tucson and affiliates Chabad on River and Chabad at the University of Arizona have been hosting celebrations and distributing free Chanukah menorah kits.