Families gathered in the Lawrence Public Library auditorium Tuesday to hear Rabbi Zalman Tiechtel tell the story of Hanukkah, snack on latkes and applesauce, and help make olive oil and wicks to use in a menorah.
In Judaism, olive oil represents the miracle at the Temple of Jerusalem. Ancient Israel was overrun by the powerful Syrian Greeks who sought to restrict religious freedoms, and they destroyed the oils that had been carefully prepared for the temple’s daily menorah lighting. Only one jar of oil, enough to last a single day, remained untouched.
But the oil miraculously burned for eight days. Now, Hanukkah is an eight-day celebration centered on lighting a menorah to symbolize the message of light triumphing over the dark.
Tiechtel will return to the library at 4:30 p.m. Wednesday to light a 9-foot-tall menorah. Everyone is welcome to come and enjoy free food, gifts, drinks and live music.
Rabbi Zalman Tiechtel holds an olive that will eventually become oil for the menorah.
Tiechtel, who serves as co-director of Chabad Center, made the event immersive and fun by allowing volunteers from the audience to help him in the process of making olive oil.
Kids gathered with parents, grandparents and friends in the Lawrence Public Library, eager to hear the story of Hanukkah.
Tiechtel opened the event with a quick story about the history of Hanukkah as the large audience listened in raptured silence.
6-year-old Lawrence resident Yeshi Akyung was one of the very first helpers. Tiechtel showed Yeshi how to add olives to the press.
Anna VanderVale, 6, helped Tiechtel add wooden blocks.
Yeshi helped Tiechtel spin the top of the press down to squish the olives.
“I need to get back to the gym,” Tiechtel said as he took over the press.
Lawrence resident Juliet Johnson, 5, assisted Tiechtel next, eager to see how much juice would come from the press.
“If anything comes out, you have to clap, but if nothing comes out, everyone has to boo and I’ll go hide under the table,” Tiechtel said.
Audience members held their breath in anticipation and clapped as the first few drops of juice came dripping from the press.
The olive juice trickled from the press into a small cup.
Tiechtel poured the juice into a small tube.
The tube was then inserted into a machine that spun quickly enough to separate the olive’s juices from the actual oil.
A small audience gathered at the table as Tiechtel showed the room the machine that would separate the olive juice from the oil.
At last, a small amount of oil was produced, and the menorah was nearly ready to light.
Tiechtel asked everyone to roll balls of cotton into wicks for the menorah.
Tiechtel’s daughter Esther helped light the wicks. Carefully, she took a candle from Tiechtel’s hand and used it to light the first wick.
Once the wicks and oil were in the menorah, Tiechtel used a candle to finish lighting it.
Tiechtel concluded the event by reminding everyone of Hanukkah’s message:
“Whether you celebrate Hanukkah, or even if your family celebrates a different holiday, everyone in this room has a very important job: to bring light into this world.”
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Chloe Anderson (she/her) contributed to The Lawrence Times from August 2022 through May 2023. She is also published in Climbing magazine, Kansas Reflector and Sharp End Publishing. As a recent graduate of the University of Kansas, Chloe plans to continue her career in photography, rock climbing and writing somewhere out West.
You can view her portfolio, articles and commissioned work here. Check out more of her work for the Times here.