Chabad Jewish Center of Naples is taking Hanukkah to new heights.
Specifically, 25 feet in the air. That’s the height of a menorah the group is working to erect for Chabad’s Hanukkah extravaganza, to be held Sunday at the Village on Venetian Bay.
The menorah symbolizes a miracle of ancient Judaism, when celebrants were rededicating the Holy Temple in Jerusalem during the Maccabean Revolt in the 2nd century B.C. The Jews had only enough oil to light the flame for one night, but it nevertheless kept burning for eight.
While the menorah is a candelabrum with eight branches, one for each of those nights, it has nine flames. The center flame, the “shamash” or servant flame, rises from the base and serves to light the others. One more flame is lit each night of Hanukkah until all eight, plus the shamash, are lit.
Hanukkah is known as the Festival of Lights. It begins each year on the 25th day of Kislev in the Hebrew calendar, but like Easter, doesn’t correspond to a fixed day in the Gregorian calendar used in the U.S.
The hands creating Chabad’s menorah are those of Alan Meyers, owner of Big Al’s Welding in Bonita Springs.
Meyers, a Catholic, is providing all the labor and materials for the project.
“He didn’t want anything in return,” Chabad’s Rabbi Fishel Zaklos said. “He totally donated everything.”
Meyers just sees it as a way to give back to the community for his own good fortune.
“Life is good. I came here with a suitcase of clothes and a prayer, and my prayer was answered,” Meyers said.
Out of work and divorced in New Orleans 23 years ago, he said, he received a round-trip airplane ticket from a friend in Naples.
“He said, ‘If you like it here, you can stay.’ Twenty-three years later, here I am. My doors are open, my bills are all paid. That’s a big plus right now,” Meyers said.
He’s owned his business for 16 of those years.
When the rabbi called him, Meyers said, “he told me what he was trying to do. He came by, showed me a plan, and I said, ‘I could do this.’ ”
Considering its 25-foot height and metal structure, the Chabad menorah is designed to be as easy as possible to transport, assemble and set up, Meyers said.
“It’s easy to take it apart and put it together,” he said.
He built it from aluminum, since it is one-fourth the weight of steel. A bold, modern design utilizes 3-inch square aluminum tubing and has four arms on each side jutting out at 45-degree angles.
Maurice Tordghman, Victor Fuss and Sam Blitz are among those who worked with him on the idea and look of the menorah, Zaklov said.
“A few members got together, and wanted to do something big,” he said.
On top of the menorah’s branches will be tiki torches, the same type used on walkways and at outdoor barbecues, Zaklov said.
Traditionally, he said, olive oil provides the fuel to light the menorah’s flames, but candles are perfectly acceptable, “and we’ll be using oil, too” — off-the-shelf lamp oil.
Sunday evening, the towering menorah will be the centerpiece of Chabad’s Hanukkah celebration, held once again at the Village on Venetian Bay, on the south side of Park Shore Drive.
As in years past, Naples Mayor Bill Barnett will do the honors lighting the flames on the menorah, three flames in this case, because Sunday is the second night of Hanukkah this year.
To do so Sunday night, Barnett will have to ascend to the torches in a cherry-picker.
“Oh my gosh, he’s always got a surprise for me,” Barnett said of the rabbi when informed of the altitude requirement for his mayoral duties this Hanukkah. “It’s a nice celebration, and it’s great for Naples. I light Christmas trees, I light menorah candles. Whatever your beliefs, everybody respects everyone.”
Barnett will ascend the cherry-picker to light the torches around sunset. On the ground, the Naples Klezmer Band, a traditional Jewish orchestra, will perform.
Children will be putting edible decorations on holiday cookies, enjoying games and gelt, the traditional chocolate coins, and bouncing in the bounce house. The Hebrew school’s choir will sing Hanukkah songs.
Foods will include latkes, or potato pancakes, and sugar-covered jelly doughnuts, said Ettie Zaklos, Fishel’s wife and the educational director of Chabad.
Since Hanukkah is about oil, she said, it is customary to eat oily foods during its celebration. Additional food items will be catered by a delicatessen from Miami.
Jews from all congregations, whether Orthodox, Reform, Conservative or unaffiliated, are encouraged to share in the celebration, she said.
Everyone, of any faith, is welcome, she added.
“We think it’s a wonderful community event. We’re honored to be hosting it here (Village on Venetian Bay) again,” said Lisa Paul, director of commercial properties for the Lutgert Co. “That’s an awesome-sized menorah. I’m excited to see it.”
Chabad has a tradition of doing things in a big way at its Hanukkah celebrations. Last year, the Chabad built a 20-foot walk-in version of a dreidel, the four-sided children’s top that is a Hanukkah tradition.
“It’s nice to bring in a new twist, new energy,” Fishel Zaklos said. “When you do it every year the same way, you lose excitement. We wanted to do something to really help spread the light.”
Ettie Zaklos said the lights of the menorah symbolize the light we can spread in our lives.
“Lighting up the world, one candle at a time, is the spirit of Chanukah,” she said. “Never be satisfied with what you’ve done today, keep adding light and kindness all around you.”
The flame of the menorah, Rabbi Zaklos said, signifies the flickering of light in a world of darkness. The message, he said, is “Never give up. We can brighten the world. Ultimately, good prevails over evil.”
Standing 25 feet high and mounted on a 6-foot stage, Chabad’s menorah should be visible over Venetian Bay, throughout the neighborhood, and out into the Gulf of Mexico.
The light is being spread.