Zach Hyman, dreidel parachutes and a car menorah parade mark the 30th anniversary of Edmonton’s Hanukkah ceremony

Zach Hyman lights Edmonton Menorah
Edmonton Oilers forward Zach Hyman (right), joins Rabbi Ari Drelich (left) of Chabad Edmonton Sunday Nov. 28, 2021 to light the giant Hanukkah menorah high above the lawn of the Alberta Legislature. (Photo courtesy Rabbi Dovid Pinson)

When hockey star Zach Hyman left his hometown Toronto Maple Leafs to sign with the Edmonton Oilers earlier this year, he told interviewers he was planning to become a part of the Alberta capital’s Jewish community.

And that’s how Hyman found himself strapped in to a cherry picker basket of a crane Sunday and lifted to light a giant Hanukkah menorah outside of the Alberta provincial legislature.

Number 18 wasn’t alone soaring over the crowd: local Chabad Rabbi Ari Drelich was with him, as the pair carried a Coleman butane lamp which had already been lit below by Jason Kenney, Alberta’s premier, to be used for the Shamash candle. Then, as Hyman recited the blessings, in Hebrew, he helped the rabbi install the lamp, and the second one, and lit that flame.

“It was a very cool experience and a big honour to be asked to do that for the Jewish community of Edmonton,” Hyman told reporters Monday after the team’s practise in Edmonton at Rogers Place. “Obviously I’m Jewish and a proud member of the community.”

When asked if he was afraid of being hoisted some nine metres or 30 feet off the ground, and whether he had done similar events in Toronto, Hyman laughed, and said no.

“I don’t know if we have anything like that [in Toronto], it was 30 feet tall, maybe higher,” he said, with a smile. “They strapped me in pretty good (sic) and safe.”

The event was billed as “Chanukah at the Legislature,” and the giant menorah was placed at a new location this year next to the Holocaust memorial. Organizers included Chabad of Edmonton, the Edmonton Jewish Federation, the City of Edmonton, and the local National Council of Jewish Women chapter.

Earlier in the afternoon, a parade of 40 cars with large homemade menorahs drove through the city. According to Rabbi Dovid Pinson, they were built in 2019, before COVID, by members of the C-Teen Jewish youth group.

The parade did go ahead last year, after the province banned outdoor gatherings of large groups just a few days before Hanukkah. In 2021, because so much time has passed, some of those teens on the original building crew are now old enough to drive their own cars in the parade.

“They’re proud to put their own menorahs on them,” Pinson told The CJN.

‘We need it right now’

Community member Cyril Fried has been attending the annual ceremony regularly. He told CBC Edmonton that Hanukkah means family, friends and freedom.

“Everybody enjoys some sense of community and we need it right now, with COVID,” said Fried, who grew up in South Africa.

Alberta’s premier referenced the obstacles which COVID posed for the Jewish community, with synagogues having to operate with reduced seating capacity to avoid contagion and also to abide by provincial health guidelines.

“We don’t know what the future holds, but we do know that we have each other,” Kenney told the crowd, adding that although Albertans are resilient people, they don’t hold a candle to the Jewish community.

“Ha-Shem knows the Jewish people are the most resilient, I would say in all of history, something that we celebrate today at Hanukkah,” he said.

The premier then tried out his best Hebrew pronunciation to send greetings to the crowd.

“Happy Hanukkah, Hag Hanukkah sameack (sic), on behalf of the government of Alberta, God Bless, thank you.”