Bridge Street Menorah lighting celebrates diversity and freedom

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HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WHNT) - The lighting of a Menorah in the center of Bridge Street brought smiles and appreciation to patrons -- and now just those of the Jewish faith.

"We have this expression of freedom, this unity, that everyone can appreciate," said Rabbi Laibel Berkowitz, executive director of the North Alabama Chabad. He and his wife organize the event every year, including dreidel decorations and donuts for people to enjoy.

Men visiting from Israel joined Rabbi Berkowitz in leading the crowd in song. The men's children say there are some noticeable differences from their Hanukkah celebrations back home.

"When they talk, they talk in English and we talk in Hebrew," said nine-year-old Israelite Matan Brener.

Matan and his sister still happily captured the moments of an American Hanukkah.

"It makes me feel happy when you see more Jewish people celebrating Jewish holidays, so it's fun," said eleven-year-old Shira.

State representative Phil Williams helped light the Menorah. Though not Jewish, he is proud his state has long supported the Jewish faith.

"Alabama first reached out to the Jewish community in the 1940s and said they needed a place of their own," Williams said.

Monna Harmon sang along with the songs tied to her Hebrew faith. She says Huntsville is a great place to live because it is so accepting.

"It's just special that such a small Jewish community can come out and enjoy this holiday and other people can recognize it," she said. "There are folks out here that aren't Jewish, and I just love that it brings the community together."

This is the fifth year of the Menorah lighting at Bridge Street. Though we're in the Bible Belt, that doesn't stop the collective celebration of the Jewish culture.

"Jewish people are not the majority in Alabama or in Huntsville," said Rabbi Berkowitz. "But yet we are able to celebrate Hanukkah publicly, proudly, it emphasizes the story, or message of Hanukkah which is that ability to express yourself."

"I'm just happy to know that Huntsville, probably more than other parts of the state, is open and is accepting of different kinds of people," said Rep. Williams.

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