Menorah lighting canned by Joburg malls
For many, it’s a Chanukah family tradition to attend the menorah lighting ceremonies at Sandton City and Norwood Mall. Unfortunately, both centres have cancelled these ceremonies this year.
The Gauteng malls aren’t the first to call off Chanukah celebrations this year, with public menorah lighting being cancelled in Moncton, Canada; in Virginia; and the London City Council deciding to scrap the installation of a menorah outside Havering Town Hall due to fears of vandalism and “tensions”, but reversing its decision after a backlash from the community.
“Cancelling Chanukah lighting events because of events in Israel is deeply problematic,” said Professor Karen Milner, the national chairperson of the South African Jewish Board of Deputies. “Chanukah lighting is a religious ritual, not a political statement or position. To equate it to the pro or anti-Israel marches and demonstrations is entirely incorrect. It’s not acceptable to cancel a Jewish event because of anything to do with Israel.”
Both Sandton and Norwood malls reportedly “politely declined” requests to host the ceremonies this year, in spite of their co-operation in previous years. Following numerous attempts by the SA Jewish Report to contact them for an explanation, neither commented.
Rabbi Michael Katz and Rabbi Ari Kievman, who organise the Sandton event, as well as Rabbi Mordechai Rodal, who organises the Norwood event, believe the decision wasn’t made with malicious intent, but to keep store owners and customers out of trouble.
“I don’t think this was anything sinister or antisemitic,” said Katz. “Their hands were tied. Unfortunately, the bullies out there have won this one as well.”
Said Kievman, “Though I can understand the immense pressure and intimidation or concerns that they may have, we’re sorry to see big independent shopping centres cowering to such pressure.”
The annual Sandton City ceremony has been going for 25 years, the past 10 of which have been consecutive. At Norwood Mall, it has been running since 2012. Neither have been cancelled in recent memory, although Kievman said that, during the COVID-19 pandemic, “we faced some challenges with getting the permits for the menorah, but we did get it, and it was a great event”.
Had the malls not declined, Katz, Kievman, and Rodal said they would have gone ahead with the events. “We had the backing of the CSO [Community Security Organisation] as well,” said Katz, who is determined to resume the tradition next year. “We certainly don’t give up so easily.”
“It’s a dark time for the Jewish people, many of whom report feeling scared since the 7 October massacre in Israel and subsequent rise of antisemitism globally,” said Kievman. “It’s especially important now, as the menorah symbolises light and “a little light expels a lot of darkness”.
The Sandton menorah will now be lit at the Sandton Central Shul’s Chabad Goodness and Kindness Centre, and Rabbi Rodal is trying to find another location to host the Norwood event.
“Especially this year, in a world that has suddenly become so much darker, it’s even more important to add light,” he said. “An integral component of celebrating Chanukah is the concept of “pirsumei nisa” [publicising the miracle]. For this reason, many Jews light their menorahs in the window facing the front street. The Lubavitcher Rebbe encouraged taking this concept further by lighting large, noticeable menorahs in public places.”
“The menorah, and indeed Chanukah itself, has a universal message of freedom of the human spirit, freedom from tyranny and oppression, and of the ultimate victory of good over evil,” said Kievman.
Rodal said that public menorah lighting and Chanukah celebrations symbolise “that the Jewish – and every – community can proudly celebrate their religion in public without fear or discrimination.” Rodal is showing his Jewish pride this holiday by driving around with an illuminated menorah on the roof of his car. He has also printed magnetic signs wishing “Happy Chanukah” for people to attach to the sides of their cars. “I’m hoping these will be seen all over the streets of Johannesburg, and will strengthen Jewish resolve,” he said.
There will also be menorah lightings at KosherWorld and at the Northgate Ice Rink on Monday, 11 December, at 18:15. Many shuls have installed their own giant menorahs.
“While there may be unpleasant interactions, we must stand proud instead of cowering,” said Rodal. “If we let ourselves be intimidated, the antisemites win, and it’ll only get worse.”