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With Hanukkah beginning, thoughts turn to security

WEST HARTFORD -- Hanukkah, the Jewish Festival of Lights, begins on Sunday night and lasts for eight days.

In light of a recent spike in anti-semitism across the country and here in Connecticut, local religious leaders are working with law enforcement to make sure everyone can celebrate the holiday safely.

Just over a month ago, a gunman armed with a semi-automatic rifle entered a synagogue in Pittsburgh and killed eleven people. All of the victims were Jewish. This month, students at Amity High School protested what the called an “anti-semitic culture” in the school. And, this week, a professor at Columbia University found a swastika painted on her office walls.

“For this turn of events to happen in the United States, it’s still shocking,” said Rabbi Yosef Wolvovsky, director of the Chabad Jewish Center of Glastonbury.

It’s not just in the United States. One in three Europeans believe that Jews use the Holocaust to “advance their own positions or goals,” according to a new CNN poll released this week.

“I think people are really looking for a meaningful response, not just to tragedy, but to things they find to be completely abhorrent,” siad Wolvovsky.

Wolvovsky explained how Hanukkah represents the antidote to hate.

“Hanukkah is all about transforming negative to positive,” he said. “The central celebration of Hanukkah is the kindling of the menorah and it’s designed to be done specifically after nightfall. In other words, we take a dark and cold environment and we try to warm it up and brighten it with the candles.”

“We are out there and we’re trying to do more good but we’re more aware, our eyes are wider opened,” said Wolvovsky.

Members of the Jewish community are getting ready for the annual ‘Chanukah Fire on Ice’ event on Sunday at 4 p.m. Hundreds of people will join together for the lighting of a super-sized menorah.

“People from all walks of life come together with positive energy,” said Rabbi Shaya Gopin, of the Chabad of Greater Hartford.

Gopin said he, along with other religious leaders, has been working closely with law enforcement to ensure everyone’s safety.

“We’re in close touch with Chief Riddick from the West Hartford Police Department,” said Gopin. “He’s amazing and they have a plan. They’re on it.”

While Gopin said he feels happy that people will feel safe with that added security, it’s also a shame to have to take that extra step.

“It’s unfortunate - the precautions we started to need to take,” said Gopin. “This makes us need to be a little bit more creative, how we can take the necessary precautions and at the same time, be open and available and accessible like we try to be.”

There are Hanukkah celebrations happening all week long all over Connecticut, and there will be increased security. Click here for a list of some of those events. If you are interested in receiving Hanukkah supplies, such as a menorah, candles or gelt, you can contact the Chabad Jewish Center of Glastonbury or the Chabad House of Greater Hartford.

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