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A Hanukkah hope: Defeat the darkness Aboard the USS Ford

The Seattle Times
Navy operations Spc. Eric Sanders, left, watches Rabbis Elazar Bogomilsky, right, and Eli Estrin give a blessing after lighting an electric menorah aboard the USS Ford on Thursday at Naval Station Everett on the fifth night of Hanukkah. Sanders was instrumental in getting the menorah on board ship.

The USS Ford, a guided-missile frigate, may be a high-tech “total warfare system,” but for the past few days, it has been host to a symbol more than 2,000 years old: a menorah.

The 9-foot electric menorah stands on the deck of the ship at Naval Station Everett, being lit each night during the Hanukkah holiday, from Dec. 25 through Jan. 1.

Large, public menorah lightings are nothing new to Chabad Lubavitch of the Pacific Northwest. The Jewish outreach organization sponsors humanitarian, educational and social activities and is part of Chabad centers worldwide.

When operations Spc. 2nd Class Eric Sanders, the Jewish lay leader of the Ford, asked for a menorah display, the group produced “a beautiful, giant, 9-foot electric menorah that’s standing on the deck,” said Rabbi Elazar Bogomilsky. The rabbi is director of the Northwest Friends of Chabad, a support group to Chabad Lubavitch, and host of a radio talk show. Sanders trucked the menorah up from Seattle and set it up with help from friends on the ship.

The menorah sits on the deck, on what used to be a missile launcher.

Bogomilsky and Rabbi Elie Estrin, director of Chabad at the University of Washington, gave a blessing on board Thursday night that Sanders, Lt. Cmdr. Kristin E. Jacobsen, chaplain Gregory McCrimmon and Aaron Arky, the ship’s public-affairs officer, attended.

“There’s a concept that was expressed by Isaiah to turn your swords into plowshares,” Estrin said. “We believe that this is what it’s all about.”

The rabbis believe this is the first Navy ship in the region to have a menorah lighting.

“It’s good that we can recognize all the different faiths that we have on the ship,” Jacobsen said.

Another part of the ship had xmas decorations, and each year, the Navy ships have a competition for creating the most interesting displays.

The menorah, a candelabra, represents a miracle that dates back more than 2,200 years, when Israel was under Syrian rule. Judaism was under attack, with prohibition of dietary laws and the burning of sacred scrolls of the Torah.

Thousands were martyred for practicing their religion.

“The miracle was a small group of Jews stood up against an army and gained control over the temples that were desecrated,” Bogomilsky said. “They found one jug of oil they could light, and the miracle is it lasted eight days, until they were able to produce more oil.”

The enduring message is that “one little light can remove much darkness,” he said. “The message of Hanukkah is that each day we add another candle, to increase the light and brightness and freedom in the world.”

During the Holocaust, Jews would make menorahs out of potatoes in the concentration camps; in Russia, where religion was repressed, people would risk their lives to gather friends together for Hanukkah. The Hebrew words persoma nisa mean to proclaim and broaden the miracle, and, “it’s really a holiday for the entire world,” Bogomilsky said. “Hence, these giant outdoor lighting displays to illuminate the universe.”

The lighting ceremony, which took place at 5 p.m., also featured a treat for those participating.

Michael Morgan, the culinary specialist on duty, cooked up latkes — potato pancakes, a traditional Hanukkah food — his first ever.

In the clear night waters, a blessing followed the lighting, “to bring light and gratitude for what they do for us, keeping our waters safe,” Bogomilsky said.

The Ford heads back to sea Jan. 6 for six months in South America.

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