A virtual Menorah in the D and a nationwide mural project ring in the holiday.
Two events, five minutes away from each other in Downtown Detroit, marked the first night of a reimagined Chanukah.
Menorah in the D, the yearly event which usually draws thousands to Cadillac Square to watch local luminaries light a giant menorah to ring in the holiday, took place mostly virtually on Thursday night due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The hybrid event took place in Campus Martius Park like usual as hundreds of Jewish Detroiters watched the music, games, and speeches from afar. Michigan chapters of the Chabad Lubavitch movement, including ChabaD of Greater Downtown Detroit, staged the event in partnership with the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit, with the Jewish News serving as a streaming media partner.
Hosts of the event were ChabaD of Greater Downtown Detroit Executive Director Rabbi Yisrael Pinson, Chabad Lubavitch of Michigan Vice President Rabbi Kasriel Shemtov and Rock Ventures Detroit Ambassador Bruce Schwartz.
Very few people attended in person beyond a small crowd of media and invited guests, following concentrated efforts by the event’s organizers to encourage Detroiters to stay home and watch the event online. At a few points, the broadcast cut to a large group of Zoom participants lighting their menorahs at home.
Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson made a quick in-person appearance at the event, saying that Menorah in the D is “such a great celebration of our community, our diversity, and our commitment to ensuring we recognize we’re all in this together.”
Benson made her appearance following days of tight security detail after armed protesters opposing the Michigan election results marched outside her home on Saturday night.
Guests delivering virtual pre-recorded messages for the event included Governor Gretchen Whitmer, Senator Gary Peters, Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan, Congresswoman (MI-14) Brenda Lawrence, State Representative (MI-39) Ryan Berman, Michigan State Senator Jeremy Moss, Oakland County Treasurer-elect Robert Wittenberg, former JFMD CEO Scott Kaufman, Michigan Supreme Court Justice Richard Bernstein and 2020 Nobel Laureate Paul Milgrom, a native Detroiter.
Joshua Goldberg of NEXTGen Detroit was also an in-person guest and speaker.
Lighting the menorah was Scott Sherman, who was representing the Fisher Foundation, and the President & CEO of United Way for Southeastern Michigan, Dr. Darienne Hudson.
“I’m afraid of heights, but it was a great moment and honor,” Sherman said after the lighting.
Click here if you want to relive every moment from Menorah in the D.
Reimagined Jewish Street Art Festival Arrives in Detroit
After the first-ever Jewish Street Art Festival took place in 2019 in Jerusalem, the 2020 version of the festival has been reimagined as a decentralized art event in which nine Jewish artists create public art pieces in their respective cities. Each artist or artist team is painting a Chanukah menorah, linking the eight participating cities through the art.
Detroit joined a list of participating cities that also included Washington D.C., New York City, Charlotte, Atlanta, Los Angeles, Toronto and Chicago.
Metro Detroit native and current Chicago-based artist Rachel Gluski created a menorah mural on the wall of the Isaac Agree Downtown Synagogue over the span of two days, wrapping up on Friday, Dec. 11.
For Gluski, who attended Hillel Day School and recently finished her undergraduate studies at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, her first attempt at a mural was particularly meaningful.
“I think my work in general is about creating more of an open dialogue to explore all sides of things in a way that’s safe and comfortable. I’m hoping people feel a little uplifted when they look at it,” Gluski said of her mural. “Growing up I don’t think I saw a lot of Jewish art, so the idea of a Jewish Street Art Festival and actually having it on the street is kind of exciting and cool.”
Gluski received support and live reactions from people walking by while creating the mural, which she and her mother, artist Cheryl Widener, appreciated greatly.
Los Angeles-based artist Hillel Smith and NEXTGen Detroit executive board member George Roberts were both instrumental in bringing the Chanukah mural to Detroit. With the closures and cancellations of Jewish and arts programming because of COVID-19, this project has allowed artists to engage their local communities.
The Festival is supported by the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation’s Grassroots Events program.