Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger performed a symbolic menorah lighting at the State Capitol today as part of the 12th annual Chabad Chanukah celebration. The Governor joined with Rabbi Boruch Shlomo Cunin, Director of West Coast Chabad-Lubavitch, and other Chabad representatives to share messages of holiday cheer with the people of California.
After greeting the crowd with “Shalom,” Governor Schwarzenegger called the people of Chabad “heroes” who have had “an unbelievable impact on thousands and thousands of people.” Standing before the Capitol building in Sacramento, he thanked the charitable group for its “great contribution to the state.”
Before the menorah lighting, the Governor recalled how the Maccabees of ancient Israel defied their oppressors to reclaim the Temple and experienced “the miracle of the oil” that lit a menorah for eight days even though it was only a single day’s supply. “The menorah is a powerful symbol of faith,” Governor Schwarzenegger said, “It has been sustained by tradition and empowered by the courage of the Jewish people.”
During the event, Rabbi Cunin presented a large, ornate dreidel as a gift to the Governor and people of California. The dreidel’s base was inscribed with a quote from the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory, that read: “The spirit of Chanukah is experienced when we apply its joy, warmth, and light to our lives not only with our loved ones, but with the entire world.”
In his remarks, Rabbi Cunin said, “The message of Chanukah is the power of light. The warmth and strength of Chabad is the power of light, the light of our Rebbe.” The Rabbi spoke of the miracle of Chanukah and its enduring message of light overcoming darkness, adding that, “The way we combat darkness is by lighting a candle.”
Rabbi Cunin also noted that the Hebrew letter for light has a numerical value of 207–which is the exact number of years since the founder of Chabad, Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, was released from his imprisonment in Czarist Russia. The Rabbi’s liberation on the 19th day of the Hebrew month of Kislev is a key date for Chabad Chasidism, since after his release he spread his teachings on a broader scale than ever before.
Rabbi Mendy Cohen, Director of Chabad of Sacramento, told the audience that courage is rewarded with miracles. He listed examples ranging from the Maccabees and the menorah, to Rabbi Schneur Zalman’s release from prison, to the incredible growth of Chabad in California under the guidance of the Rebbe. He also praised Governor Schwarzenegger’s courage, and quipped that he is “the most powerful Governor in the union, both physically and spiritually.”
Serving as emcee for the event was Michael Helfant, the President and COO of Marvel Studios, who has been a friend of Chabad for two decades. “Most days, I work with superheroes like Spider-Man, the X- Men, and the Fantastic Four,” he said, “But today, I am here to celebrate with some very different superheroes . . . The people of Chabad are heroes who accomplish miraculous feats each day. As we celebrate the miracles of Chanukah, they are spreading a powerful message of hope and light.”
David Akov, Israel’s Consul General in S. Francisco, also spoke to the crowd in Sacramento. He brought greetings from the Holy Land for “the holiday of lights and freedom,” calling Chanukah “a universal celebration all over the world.” Before the symbolic menorah lighting, Rabbi Cunin offered prayers and remembrances for the victims of the natural disasters of 2005.
Fifteen Chabad schools from across California were represented onstage. Each school undertook a special Menorah Project, holding contests in which their students hand-decorated menorahs to convey the holiday’s universal message and beauty. One student from each school came with his or her own creation to display for the Governor. The unique menorahs included a colorful Lego candelabrum, a log covered with leaves, and a line of candleholders made from Schwarzenegger action figures atop the message, “The Jewish people said: ‘I’ll be back.’”
The Sid Engel Orchestra provided festive holiday music for the event, and there was also a performance by the Chabad Tiny Tots Choir. The children in the choir each had a headdress topped with a symbolic flame, and they also wore silver letters that together spelled out the word “Chanukah.”
At the end of the celebration, donated gifts were distributed to audience members so that they in turn could present them to someone less fortunate during Chanukah. After helping distribute those gifts, Governor Schwarzenegger joined a number of Chabad rabbis onstage for a high-spirited dance.