Melbourne reawakens to lights and latkes

Melbourne reawakens to lights and latkes

“Chag same’ach! Best wishes to all of Victoria’s Jewish community – Dan Andrews.”

Premier Daniel Andrews playing dreidel with Lev Kaltmann. Photo: Ash Waters
Premier Daniel Andrews playing dreidel with Lev Kaltmann. Photo: Ash Waters

FOR Premier Daniel Andrews, a spin of the dreidel and a set of large illuminated pillars were the perfect Chanukah antidote to a CBD that’s been unusually dull and dark for much of 2020, as COVID lockdowns drained the lifeblood from Melbourne’s geographic heart.

That’s all changing now, and along with that renaissance has come Pillars of Light (POL), an eight-day celebration of Chanukah, hosted by the Ark Centre in partnership with Federation Square and Gandel Philanthropy.

When the Premier visited POL at Federation Square on Tuesday, he was soon caught up in playing dreidel with young brothers Av and Lev Kaltmann, sampling latkes and writing a personal greeting on one of the large paper-covered pillars of light. His inscription read, “Chag same’ach! Best wishes to all of Victoria’s Jewish community – Dan Andrews.”

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews took time out of his busy schedule to spin the dreidel with children at Federation…

Posted by The Australian Jewish News on Monday, December 14, 2020

Launching with a grand menorah lighting last Thursday, POL has seen each night of Chanukah offering speakers, VIPs, performers, cultural groups, and sportspeople invited to add their greetings to the pillars. Hundreds have flocked to the event.

“Pillars of Light, in celebration of Chanukah, is providing Melburnians with an opportunity to come together over a multicultural celebration, focusing on what unites us as a city,” reflected the Ark Centre’s Rabbi Gabi Kaltmann.

Thursday night saw the first lighting of a 3.5-metre menorah. Melbourne businessman Graham Goldsmith hosted the evening, Gheran Yarraman Steel, an Indigenous consultant on reconciliation, offered the Welcome to Country, and the gathering heard from Lord Mayor Sally Capp and Federation Square CEO Xavier Csar. On Friday night, speakers included Archbishop of Melbourne Peter Comensoli, State Liberal leader Michael O’Brien and Arts Centre Melbourne CEO Claire Spencer.

Among speakers on other nights were Major Brendan Nottle of the Salvation Army; AFL player Lin Jong; Jacinta Elston, pro-vice-chancellor, Indigenous, at Monash University; NBL commissioner Jeremy Loeliger; Chin Tan, Race Commissioner at the Australian Human Rights Commission, and Viv Nguyen, Victorian Multicultural Commission chair.

From left: David Southwick, Josh Burns, Rabbi Chaim Herzog and Michael O’Brien gather for a menorah lighting at Chanukah in the City. Photo: Peter Haskin

Menorah lighters included Victorian MP Nina Taylor; Harley Rose of Access; Yorta Yorta and Dja Dja Wurrung woman Muriel Bamblett, CEO of the Victorian Aboriginal Child Care Agency; Junxi Su, president of the Federation of Chinese Associations (Victoria); and Azmeena Hussain, chair of the Islamic Museum.

Tuesday afternoon saw Chabad of Melbourne CBD hosting its annual Chanukah in the City, with guests including Victorian Liberal leader Michael O’Brien, Victorian Shadow Minister for Multicultural Affairs Neil Angus, Caulfield MP David Southwick, Box Hill MP Paul Hamer (representing the Premier), and federal MP Josh Burns.

At the end of a year of pandemic and lockdowns, O’Brien wished the community “Chanukah sameach”, telling the gathering, “When I think of the Jewish community in this state, I think of resilience, I think of faith and I think of dedication and overcoming the odds … There’s just that determination to see this through … We look forward to a much better, stronger and more prosperous 2021.”

Southwick and Burns spoke about their agreement during the pandemic to place the Jewish community’s welfare ahead of politics – and Hamer, who co-convenes Victorian Parliamentary Friends of Israel with Southwick, noted the Victorian Friends group was widely known for its bipartisan support of Israel. Rabbi Yoni Reyder sang traditional Chanukah songs and guests tucked into latkes and doughnuts.

Before the event, Chabad of Melbourne CBD’s Rabbi Chaim Herzog said his Chabad House “draws on bringing people back to the city … What better way than Chanukah to bring light back into a dark CBD?”

As part of Chanukah in the City, a candle lighting in which Andrews and O’Brien took part was streamed on social media on Tuesday night.

Rabbi Danny Mirvis (right) presents Daniel Andrews with a crystal dreidel. Photo: Noam Cohney

Meanwhile, members of the Rabbinical Council of Victoria (RCV), including president Rabbi Philip Heilbrunn, co-vice-presidents Rabbis Moshe Kahn and Danny Mirvis, and immediate past president Rabbi Daniel Rabin celebrated Chanukah with the Premier at Parliament House last week, presenting him with a crystal dreidel. Rabbi Mirvis expressed the rabbis’ gratitude to Andrews for his government’s support during the challenging months of the pandemic and lockdowns, and explained the RCV’s policies in helping combat COVID.

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