Menorahs Light Up Stalin’s “Jewish Autonomy” of Birobidzhan

When Joseph Stalin created an “autonomous Jewish region” near the China–Russia border, he did not even dream that one day, the Rebbe’s shluchim would be spreading the light of Chanuka there. 

When Stalin created the Jewish autonomy known as “Yidishe Oytonome Gegnt,” he definitely did not even dream that one day, the Rebbe’s shluchim would be spreading the light of Chanukah there. 

In the far east of Russia, near the border with China, electronic Chanukah menorahs were hung on the entrances of government buildings in the central city of the region, Birobidzhan. The menorahs brought the message of Chanukah to hundreds of thousands of district residents, including thousands of Jews.

The initiative was led by the city’s chief rabbi, Rabbi Ephraim Kolpak, who maintained a warm relationship with the local authorities. On numerous occasions, they expressed their appreciation for the Jewish community’s activities in the city.

Eight days of events kicked off on the first day of Chanukah with the traditional lighting in the city’s central square. With the sun setting in Birobidzhan earlier than any other location, this Mnorah lighting was the first menorah lighting in the word for 5784. 

During this central event, a letter of blessing from Russia’s Chief Rabbi Berel Lazar, was read. 

“This year, we celebrate Chanukah under unusual circumstances – exactly sixty days have passed since the tragedy in Simchat Torah in Eretz Yisroel. The emotions we feel now are somewhat similar to the feelings our ancestors had when they returned to Jerusalem and saw the desecrated Beis Hamikdash,” he wrote.

“And if every year we light the menorah to thank Hashem for the miracles and wonders – then this year, each and every one of us must increase the light. Let’s also allow children to light Chanukah candles, and request all our friends and relatives to join in. Let the the candles illuminate every home on the street!

“You may have noticed that Chanukah is an “easier” holiday compared to others with more complicated commandments. On this holiday, we only light one candle on the first day, two on the second, and add one each day until the end of the holiday. However, as easy as it may be, it is incredibly important. It is essential for every Jew – and not only for Jews, because the light of Chanukah must be visible to people on the streets.

“”The mitzvos of Chanukah remind us that our adversaries didn’t just seek to conquer Eretz Yisroel, nor did they merely want to desecrate the Beis Hamikdash. They aimed for darkness to prevail so that the people would lose their faith, hope, and connection to Hashem. Therefore, they defiled the pure oil intended for the Menorah in the Beis Hamikdash.

“When our ancestors emerged victorious and liberated Yerushalayim, they didn’t revel in their triumph. The first thing they did was relight the menorah to demonstrate that faith was alive. This lesson has transcended generations among our people: our adversaries may destroy the Beis Hamikdash, but they cannot ruin what resides within our neshamos. Jews rebelled against the greatest empire of the ancient world during that era and emerged victorious. If we were to tally the balance of power alone, it would have seemed impossible, but it happened. The people understood that Hashem granted them this victory, performing miracles of ‘delivering many into the hands of few.’ Therefore, the Jews kindled the Menorah, even though they knew they had enough pure oil for just one day. Since Hashem performs miracles, He would surely sustain this oil to burn whenever needed to make a new one. And that’s indeed it occurred.

“Today, as we light the Chanukah candles, it is the clearest proof of the strong faith within each of us. Our adversaries wished to extinguish the light in our ‘batei mikdash’. But instead, millions around the world are now kindling their lights. And doing so is the greatest support for our brethren in Eretz Yisroel who are, once again, fighting against the forces of darkness. The light of Chanukah will spread from here to the entire world.

“Unfortunately, we still see many people aligning openly with the forces of darkness. These are not only terrorists but also those who organize in support of them. There’s no point in engaging them in debates or participating in protests againstthem. Our mission is to add light, show the truth to others, and open people’s eyes. When there is a struggle between darkness and light, light always prevails.

“And if someone says, ‘How can one candle of mine combat all this darkness?’ Chanukah teaches us a most important lesson: one small candle dispels a great darkness! Every evening, we add another candle. Each candle matters; each one adds light. It fills us with faith that soon there will be light everywhere, and the world will be ready for the arrival of Moshiach!”

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