Vail Valley congregations celebrate Hanukkah |

Vail Valley congregations celebrate Hanukkah

The B'nai Vail congregation every year lights candles on the big menorah near Vail's Covered Bridge to celebrate Hanukkah, the Jewish celebration of light. The eight-day celebration in Vail starts at 5 p.m. every evening. Hanukkah this year begins on Christmas Eve,
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What’s Hanukkah?

According to an entry on, Hanukkah is the celebration of a miracle following a military victory. In re-sanctifying the Jewish temple in Jerusalem, ritual oil needed to be burned for eight days. There was only enough oil for one day, but the menorah’s flames burned the entire eight-day period. In the modern celebration, one candle is lit the first night, two the second, and so on until all eight candles are lit.

EAGLE COUNTY — Hanukkah, the Jewish festival of light, moves around on the calendar most of us use. This year, the first day of the Hanukkah celebration lands on Christmas Eve, today.

The story of Hanukkah, like the story of Christmas, is well-known to the faithful. The story, and its lessons, don’t change from year to year. But this year’s celebration is special for Jewish groups based in Vail.

B’nai Vail is the valley’s oldest Jewish congregation and its headquarters is in the Vail Interfaith Chapel. That space is shared with five Christian denominations.

B’nai Vail Rabbi Joel Newman said celebrating Hanukkah this year provides “an opportunity to share with our Christian neighbors. That doesn’t happen very often.”

Since Hanukkah moves around on the common calendar — its position is fixed on the Jewish, lunar calendar — Newman said the faithful often talk about how late or early the holiday arrives.

“But it’s always on time,” Newman said.

This is Newman’s third Hanukkah season in Vail, and the retired naval chaplain said he continues to be impressed by the way Vail’s chapel functions among its varied congregations.

“I’d say it’s unique,” Newman said of the chapel, adding the only other place he’s seen shared religious facilities is shipboard. “The congregation is so receptive. We have the Christmas tree and the wreath and the menorah … this is part of shared faith.”

Lighting the menorah

While the chapel hosts all those congregations, B’nai Vail won’t have a service Christmas Eve. Following longtime Vail tradition, those services will be held at the big menorah near the Covered Bridge in Vail Village.

Every Hanukkah season, the menorah lighting takes place at 5 p.m. Newman said he expects big crowds at those services.

The B’nai Vail congregation is growing, Newman said. Add in the visitors, and attendance should be strong.

“Kids are on vacation. So many families come during Christmas vacation. I’ve already heard of large numbers planning to come,” Newman said.

Dovid Mintz is the rabbi of Chabad Vail, another Jewish group in the valley. Mintz agreed that this Hanukkah can be special for those who celebrate it.

With kids on winter break, families can celebrate as families, without being pulled by school and other activities, Mintz said.

“It’s a time of family, a time of leisure, a time of vacation,” Mintz said. “What better time to come together to light the menorah? Now there’s no reason not to celebrate.”

Watching the candles on the menorah, Mintz said families will have time to “listen to the flames” whispering virtues, including standing up for what’s right.

Chabad Vail is also celebrating its recent move into a new facility. That group this year bought the former Treetops building, across the street from the west end of the Lionshead Village parking structure.

The group is taking over the second floor of the structure and looking for tenants for the ground floor. Chabad Vail is already holding services and classes in the new space, and a few days ago hosted a Hanukkah chocolate-making event for kids.

“We dreamed big and it paid off,” Mintz said. “Our future graciously lies ahead.”

For now, though, it’s time to celebrate the time the menorah burned when there was no oil to fuel the flames.

Vail Daily Business Editor Scott Miller can be reached at 970-748-2930, and @scottnmiller.

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