By Andrew Mitchell
With a small Jewish population, Whistler does not have a resident rabbi, synagogue, or organized community, and as a result the local Chanukah festival of lights has traditionally been observed with the daily lighting of a large public menorah, and that’s about it.
All that changed last year with the involvement of the Chabad-Lubavitch movement that provides charity and community outreach to others in the Jewish Communities. A pair of rabbis currently studying in New York came to Whistler to host a full range of Chanukah activities over eight nights for both tourists and locals, and get a little skiing in on the side. It was called Mitzvah on the Mountains, which basically translates to “Good Deed on the Mountains”.
This is the second year that Chabad has hosted Mitzvah on the Mountains, this time bringing in rabbis from Texas and Australia — Rabbi Yisroel and Rabbi Pinny — to do the honours. They started their celebration on Saturday, Dec. 16 and will wrap up the festival on Saturday, Dec. 23, and have been conducting daily prayers, and lighting a menorah each day outside of Millennium Place at 4 p.m. They are also hosting a celebration dinner and party at the Telus Whistler Conference Centre on Thursday night, and a traditional Shabbat dinner on Saturday.
The turnout has been good so far, according to Rabbi Yisroel, although they expect things to get busier as more people arrive in Whistler on their holidays.
“You never know — we had 50 to 70 at our events last year, but the main thing for us is to have contact with everyone,” he said. “The goal was for any tourist or traveler to Whistler, and the people who live here, to get everything they need for the holidays, whether it’s kosher foods, a Shabbat dinner, the daily prayers, that kind of thing.”
The rabbis have set up their own hotline where daily events are posted at 778-889-7701.
They’re hoping to have the biggest turnout to Thursday’s dinner, where kids will build the world’s biggest Lego menorah. Participants can sponsor a bucket of Lego for $50, and after the evening the Lego will be collected and sent to children in northern Israel affected by the war. The reception will start at 4:30 p.m. after the lighting of the menorah.
Chanukah was traditionally one of the more minor observances in Judaism, but has become more popular over the years for families. Its roots go back to 167 B.C. when a group of Jewish rebels known as the Maccabees won a decisive victory against the ruling Greek empire and won back the Temple in Jerusalem.
While rededicating the Temple, they discovered they only had enough consecrated olive oil on hand to light the eternal flame for one day, but through a miracle the small amount of oil lasted for eight nights — the amount of time it took to make new oil.