City officials plastered Rome with 500 signs wishing all of its citizens, Buon Chanukà, proclaiming the holiday’s dates and urging everyone to attend Chabad’s 20th public menorah lighting in the central Piazza Barberini.
Four and a half feet tall and three feet wide the signs hang in train stations, alongside city buildings, near the Spanish Steps, not far from the Trevi fountain, and within sight of the Arch of Titus.
“The city is celebrating Chabad’s twenty years of lighting the menorah in the piazza,” said Rabbi Yitzchok Hazan, director of Chabad in Rome. “They appreciate the menorah and the message of Chanukah.” Funding for the signs were government sponsored as an initiative to further appreciation of Rome’s multiethnic past and multicultural present.
Of all the cities where Chabad representatives light public menorahs, few outdo Rome’s support for the event. While Chabad is responsible for bringing the 20-foot menorah to the center of the 16th century square, the municipality takes care of the rest. They set up the stage, mike the sound, carpet the area, and provide security for the menorah throughout the holiday.
Mayor Walter Veltroni will be speaking at the festive lighting on Sunday night and dignitaries and ambassadors will participate. Because of the mass publicity, Sunday evening’s crowd is expected to exceed the usual 1500 that turn out for the event. Television crews will capture the chief rabbi of Rome lighting the menorah for news broadcast.
Students from Chabad’s preschool, community members, and children from the Hebrew school will join in the activities. An outdoor event is planned especially for them in a park on the first night of Chanukah.
Chanukah has come out of the shadows in Rome “It was unheard of for Italian Jews to bring their Judaism out in the streets,” said Rabbi Hazan. Now the Main Synagogue of Rome, not affiliated with Chabad, lights a jumbo menorah outside.
Publicity has gone beyond Rome’s 18,000 Jews. Unlike the United States, where Chanukah gets a nod as the other holiday and public school students sing dreidel songs during holiday festivals, the Jewish holiday was unknown among most Italians. This year, Rabbi Hazan received a holiday letter from the President of the Region, Mr. Enrico Gasbarra that referenced the meaning of Chanukah’s triumph of light over dark. “Even if he did his homework, it is something that would not have happened before.”
Now with the striking blue signs permeating the city, the dictum to publicize Chanukah’s miracle has taken a giant leap forward. It can be said, when in Rome, celebrate Chanukah, like the Romans do.
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