Written by Yehuda Sugar
It started years ago with a slow trickle of tourists coming to Tzfas to observe and participate in one or two public menorah lightings during the week of Chanukah.
Rabbi Gavriel Marzel, shliach of the area and director of the local Chabad House and Tzemach Tzedek organization, saw the opportunity to build on the phenomenon. Today, after nurturing the activity through agreeing to numerous requests from tourists to lecture about Chanukah and hold more public menorah lightings, it has gotten to the point where he now caters to a non-stop flow of people who crowd into Tzfas’s narrow corridors and public squares, long after the usual shul-gazing and artist gallery traffic finishes, to celebrate the festival.
The groups, including many photography student groups, come from all over Israel from every imaginable affiliation in yiddishkeit and lack thereof, to participate in multiple lightings in multiple locations that Rabbi Marzel now arranges with the help of local yeshiva bochurim.
“It is unbelievable how popular this has become and how they come just for the opportunity to participate in our public lightings,” said Rabbi Marzel, posed in front of a menorah with all eight of its lights blazing skyward Tuesday on the final night of Chanuka as cameras flashed and a flock tourists looked on in Tsfat’s famous Kikar Hamaginim (Defender’s Square.)
“It has taken on a life and identity of its own, with special tour groups and operators leading groups here for this specific purpose, benefitting everyone both spiritually and financially,” Rabbi Marzel said. “Sometimes they forget that the custom was initiated by the Lubavitcher Rebbe decades ago in one of the Rebbe’s many campaigns to bring yiddishkeit to the world and the street as a way of hastening the geulah.”
“We look to the Rebbe’s promise that this and all of the similar outreach efforts worldwide on Chanuka and throughout the rest of the year will in fact lead to the final Chanukah in the Beis HaMikdash HaShlishi with the coming of Moshiach, speedily now.”