Pouring rain failed to dampen the spirts of a small group of families huddled on the Sherman Green gazebo to light a menorah on the third night of Hanukkah Sunday.
Neither did three masked men, who carrying Nazi flags and shouting obscenities, tried to disrupt the ceremony until they fled when police arrived.
“I’m glad I was there,” said Fairfield First Selectman Kenneth Flatto.
So was Rabbi Shlame Landa who staged the ceremony for Chabad of Fairfield.
“It’s important to see we don’t back down from spreading goodness and light,” said Landa.
The men, dressed in black, showed up just as the ceremony was beginning, stayed on the sidewalk about 20 yards from the gazebo. Each carried a flag held in outstretched arms. One flag bore a swastika, another an iron cross.
From his vantage point, Flatto said he could hear obscenities, but never felt threatened. He did, however, call police.
In the interim, a number of passers-by not involved in the ceremony started yelling at the masked men. Some waved at the menorah lighters. A few joined in the ceremony. When police showed up, the men left in a car headed west on the Post Road with police trailing behind them. It is unclear if the men were stopped by police.
Flatto said he came to the ceremony to show his support. He said it was important to acknowledge and celebrate as many religions and ethnicities as possible.
“These people came to try and mar a ceremony,” he said of the masked men. “They did not succeed. Everyone there pretty much ignored that and focused on what is good about the holiday … a celebration of the festival of lights.”
Landa said it wasn’t a stretch to feel a little by like the Maccabees — on whom the story of Hanukkah is based. After battling religious persecution in 60 B.C.E., a small band of Jews lit a nine branched candelabra called a menorah to help resanctify their temple. The menorah is lit each night during the eight-day festival.
“We continue that battle,” said Landa. “The way we chose to battle darkness is to add a little bit more light. By doing a little bit more goodness is how we fight people who hate. That is what we tried to do tonight.”
Landa has been planning the menorah lighting for weeks and secured a permit from the town Park and Recreation Department. He had hoped to have many more than the 20 or so who braved a freezing rain.
He said he wasn’t really focused on what was occurring on the sidewalk, but did notice the numbers in the gazebo seemed to swell a bit toward the end of the short ceremony, which included the lighting of a 9-foot portable menorah, followed by songs and refreshments.
“I told my wife, Miriam, on the way home, if (the masked men) came out in the rain, how much more does it say that we have to be there,” he added. “We really had to be there tonight. If not, they would have won half the battle.”