Hanukkah, the Jewish festival of lights, begins at sundown on Wednesday. And that night the NHL’s Columbus Blue Jackets will celebrate the holiday with the lighting of a menorah during their game against the Nashville Predators. Presiding will be Rabbi Areyah Kaltmann co-directer of Chabad of Columbus, Ohio. He joined Bill Littlefield earlier this week for a preview.
BL: Please describe what the evening will hold.
AK: The evening is going to be very exciting. For the first time in our Nationwide Arena, the menorah is going to be lit, and there’s going to be 18,000 fans rooting on the Blue Jackets to victory. We need a lot of victories and what’s nice about it is, the menorah is going to be lit. The menorah is a universal message. It’s a message of freedom, of hope, and triumph over oppression. Everyone needs a little bit of light and hope in their life.
BL: I see that the event will also include LifeTown of which you are the executive director. Please describe for me the work that you do for LifeTown.
AK: LifeTown is a simulated village that helps children with special needs. Everyday we have 50 students. They learn by practicing life skills — how they can become independent, how they can manage — they’re able to have these skills, so that they can progress on in life.
BL: Tell me a little bit about why it’s desirable to combine the observance of a holiday with a sports event.
AK: That’s a great question. On an average team you have Russians, people from Sweden, Finland, Slovakia, the Czech Republic, and everybody’s coming together as one unified team and force, and that’s really what Hanukkah’s about. It’s all about the freedom of religion, and although Hanukkah is a jewish festival, its message is universal — that everyone has a place. That everyone, every single player on that team is critical and important.
BL: It sounds to me as if you’re a hockey fan.
AK: Well, confessions of a Chabad Australian Rabbi. I grew up in Australia and if you ask me about footy from the ’70s and ’80s I could have a conversation. But hockey is just something I acquired. And especially now that we have in Columbus the Blue Jackets, I definitely root for the Blue Jackets.
BL: Now two years ago, there was a Hanukkah celebration at the home arena of the Nashville Predators during a Blue Jackets-Predators game and the Blue Jackets lost. You have expressed the wish for the Blue Jackets to even the score. Have you got a prediction for us?
AK: Yeah, without a doubt. Our prayers will be heard and the Blue Jackets, they will prevail. Absolutely! I tell you, Bill, you know on Hanukkah, when in ancient times we had a good lineup of a few dedicated men who faced off against a big superpower and although they were short-handed, nevertheless in the end, we prevailed. And the Blue Jackets, they’re a good team and I only wish the best for the Predators, and I’m friends with a Chabad rabbi in Nashville; he’s a dear friend, Rabbi Tiechtel. I wish the best to everybody, but at the end of the day the Blue Jackets need to win.
BL: I wonder if you think the Maccabees could have envisioned over 2000 years ago that Hanukkah would be celebrated in a building where the floor was a large sheet of ice.
AK: Well, you know, we’re very creative. And the Maccabees, although it was 2000 years ago, I know that they want to bring to life the flame of Jewish pride — the flame of hope. And they want everybody to enjoy the message of Hanukkah. It’s really going to be a beautiful event and a great opportunity although it’s an ancient tradition, and custom, and festival of Hanukkah. But I think today, its message is so relevant and so potent. Just a little bit of light pushes away so much darkness, and when we all come together as one team, we do extra good — random acts of kindness — and the flame, and the hope, and the message of Hanukkah will definitely prevail no matter how long ago it occurred.