'Light Overpowers Darkness': As Hanukkah Ends, Members Of Miami's Jewish Community Push Past Tragedy

Dec 10, 2018

The smell of steaming jelly doughnuts fried in oil carried through Lincoln Road on Sunday, the eighth and final night of Hanukkah festivities on Miami Beach.

Between improvised versions of ‘I Have A Little Dreidel’ and lighting the menorah, members of the Jewish community reflected on a challenging few months.

Chani Katz, who is married to Rabbi Dev Katz of the Chabad Jewish Synagogue of Miami Beach, said it was very hard to move forward after a gunman stormed into the Tree Of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh’s historically Jewish Squirrel Hill neighborhood and killed 11 worshipers.

“But we don’t have a choice,” said Katz. 

She pointed at the 18-year-old Miami Beach menorah, festooned with hundreds of seashells.

“Every night we add another candle, and it’s to show that light overpowers darkness. This is life, it is a gift, and we’re lucky to be here. Right now, that’s what matters,” she said.

Members of the Miami Beach Jewish community celebrate the last night of Hanukkah near the seashell-covered dreidel on Lincoln Road on Sunday, Dec. 9, 2018.
Credit Lily Oppenheimer / WLRN

The artist behind the seashell-clad menorah and dreidel, Roger Abramson, was motivated to create the famed sculptures so everyone could enjoy them, regardless of religious affiliation.

A longtime civil rights activist, Abramson was recently inducted into the Ohio Civil Rights Hall of Fame for his past work to combat racial segregation and oppression while marching alongside figures like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and John Lewis.

He said part of why the seashells were placed on the menorah was to protect his sculptures from vandals. In the past, before the sculptures were reconstructed of steel, concrete and shells, Abramson said he found his sculptures pushed over and torn apart on a few occasions.

“Originally, I made it out of wood and concrete. That first year, in 2001, some young punk knocked it down on three occasions. And he had a swastika on his neck,” Abramson said. “Another time they tore off the Jewish star. I usually keep it very quiet, because I don’t want to give them that publicity.”

He believes the weight from the shells and stronger materials makes it more difficult to topple the menorah, or break it in any way.

“I’m a collector of shells, and I have hundreds of thousands, and I said, I’m going to make it so nobody is going to be able to knock it down,” he said.