By Charlie Senack
A giant menorah will light up Kitchissippi this year, during the community’s upcoming first outdoor Hanukkah celebration.
On Dec. 5, members of the public are being asked to gather in the Osgoode Properties Parking Lot located at 1285 Wellington Street West for the Grand Menorah Lighting. The event, hosted by the Jewish Youth Library of Ottawa, will start at 4 p.m.
Rabbi Moshe Caytak, one of the event’s organizers, said the community is in need of something joyful now more than ever.
“Public menorah lightings are done every year throughout the world, and it is really signifying the freedom of religion,” he said. “It really signifies how to overcome darkness in the world, and how, with every good deed we do in the world, we are illuminating the darkness. It just takes a little bit— just one candle—to light up the whole room.”
Community leaders including Mayor Jim Watson, Ottawa Centre MP Yasir Naqvi, and members of the Jewish community will be attending. There will be hot chocolate and potato latkes served while the nine-foot tall menorah is lit.
The word “Hanukkah,” means “dedication” in Hebrew. The holiday begins on the 25th of the Kislev month on the Hebrew calendar—typically falling in November or December. Hanukkah is also known as the Festival of Lights, and the holiday is celebrated with the lighting of the menorah—one candle added every night for eight days—and with traditional foods, games and gifts.
“Hanukkah is a very interesting holiday. The significance is over 2,000 years ago, when the Jewish temple in Jerusalem was broken into, all the oil became impure and contaminated,” said Rabbi Caytak. “They found one jug of oil and, from that jug, it lasted for eight days. Every year since, we are not only just remembering history—we are actually reliving it by increasing the light everyday for eight nights.”
With so much turbulence in the world right now, with the pandemic and beyond, Rabbi Caytak says it’s important to have the light shine even brighter this year.
This is something we have to focus on all year, really,” he said. “We can never stop—we can never feel comfortable with our efforts. We need to continue to spread goodness and kindness—that light—to the entire neighbourhood,”SAID Rabbi Caytak.
The Jewish Youth Library of Ottawa has played a critical role in the community for almost 40 years. Founded in a local basement in the early 1980s, the library has now grown to house an extensive collection of books.
Up until recently, the library ran out of the Chaya Mushka Building, located at 192 Switzer Ave. The building, which also houses a Jewish Montessori Preschool and a summer camp, closed shortly before the pandemic for renovations. Once completed, the centre had no room for the library.
Devora Caytak—Rabbi Caytak’s mother, who founded the library alongside her husband Dr. Joseph Caytak—said they then needed to find a new home for their facility. In the summer of 2020, they came across a historic-designated home for sale at 166 Huron Ave. N. They fell in love with the location and purchased the property to open a new facility where they could keep Jewish history and education alive.
“We are so happy to get our beautiful books, which have been in Dymon Storage for the past few years, back into circulation,” said Devora Caytak. “We have thousands of books; some of them are rare, precious books that are not in print anymore. A library is an equalizer of goodness and kindness, and libraries build communities. This library is not going to be open only to the Jewish community, but to the community at large.”
The site, a 100-year-old house which received unanimous support for its rezoning, is expected to open its door to the community in a few months. The original woodwork and stained glass windows will remain intact, but bookshelves have to be built. Devora Caytak says the library will feature bright lighting and comfortable seating, alongside a high-tech coffee machine to make the place a welcoming place for all in the community.
“We are very excited to be in the Westboro and Wellington West neighbourhoods, and opening up this library where we will have wonderful programs for adults and children of all ages,” said Devora Caytak. “It’s also zoned for an instructional facility so we will have many educational programs and really something for everybody in the community.”
The school and camps will continue to operate out of their existing location, and this is being seen as an opportunity to expand the Jewish presence within Ottawa. The centre aims to be an inclusive learning space for all.
“Rabbi Joseph Yitzhak of Lubavitch once wrote that the world says that where a light is shown, you can see hidden blemishes. What jewish teachings say is when a light is shown, you can see another hidden beauty,” Devora Caytak said. “A little bit of light dispels a lot of darkness, and Hanukkah is a symbol of religious freedom; that we all have a right to believe and pray the way that we want to, and unity through diversity.”
To learn more, visit jewishyouthlibrary.com.