Public menorah lighting in Tiburon, Nov. 28. (Photo/Instagram @ecachette)
Public menorah lighting in Tiburon, Nov. 28. (Photo/Instagram @ecachette)

Nextdoor gripes aside, Tiburon now has its own town menorah

Sign up for Weekday J and get the latest on what's happening in the Jewish Bay Area.

On Sunday, the first night of Hanukkah, nearly 100 Tiburon residents gathered in the downtown plaza for the inaugural lighting of a brand-new, 9-foot, aluminum public menorah — the town’s very own, thanks to a crowdfunding campaign.

Each night, a different family will oversee the lighting, and on Saturday, Dec. 4, the official Tiburon Hanukkah celebration will be held. The event will start at 5:45 p.m., with Rabbi Tsipi Gabai leading a musical Havdalah ceremony and then lighting the menorah. Residents from across Marin County have expressed interest in participating, according to organizer Gina Waldman, and she’s hoping for a large turnout.

Public menorah lightings in Tiburon are a recent tradition, starting in 2017 when the then-10-year-old daughter of Holli Thier, who at the time was a council member and today is the mayor of the town of 9,000, asked why Christmas tree lightings took place in town, but never menorah lightings.

“So I called all the temples and asked if somebody would donate a menorah for us to put up so that we could have a Hanukkah celebration,” Thier told J. Congregation Emanu-El in San Francisco was the first to oblige and loan one of theirs.

“I literally drove to Emanu-El, put a menorah in my trunk, drove to Tiburon, and my daughter and I set it up,” the Jewish mayor recalled.

PHOTOS: Jews gather across Bay Area for public menorah lighting

The next year, a family in Tiburon offered their large menorah for the town to use. But in 2019 they moved away, and the menorah went with them.

In 2020, though public celebrations were canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic, Tiburon neighbors on Nextdoor began asking where the menorah had gone and how they could find a new one. That was when Waldman, a Tiburon resident, announced she would make sure there would be one for this year.

In October, she partnered with the Chabad of Mill Valley to collect donations and purchase the menorah. Tiburon’s local newspaper, The Ark, reported on the fundraiser. Soon the funds came rushing in, Waldman said, and covered the cost of the $2,000 menorah.

“After I got the money together, I looked around and said, ‘OK, so we have a menorah, now what?’ We had to do something,” Waldman said.

Locals began contacting her and offering to organize the candlelighting for each of the eight nights of Hanukkah and help in other ways.

The Tiburon menorah
The Tiburon menorah

Mark Garay, a volunteer, offered to assemble the menorah, which he did with help from the Tiburon Public Works Department.

“I was putting this up Friday afternoon last week and people kept coming by and looking at the menorah, and they had these big smiles on their faces. You could see the sparkle in their eyes, so happy to see this menorah going up,” Garay said, adding that to his delight, many of them asked him to take their picture in front of the menorah.

“It’s an informal group of volunteers that have banded together to make this happen,” said Lou Weller, who put up fliers promoting the Dec. 4 event.

Another event is scheduled for Thursday, Dec. 2, when Rabbi Hillel Scop of the Mill Valley Chabad will light the menorah alongside Mayor Thier. The lightbulbs will be replaced for the night with canisters of oil with wicks in them, allowing real flames to glow from the menorah.

“I am thrilled to see great community support for the purchase of the menorah and for celebrating Hanukkah in Tiburon,” Thier said.

Gina Waldman
Gina Waldman

Of course, this being the age of social media, the plan for a public menorah had its online detractors. Waldman noted that initial chatter on Nextdoor caused friction among some neighbors, who suggested that unlike the Christmas tree, which they said is a secular symbol, the menorah is a religious symbol, and a public lighting ceremony would violate the constitutional separation of church and state.

Waldman countered those comments by providing a link to a Jewish News Syndicate story reviewing the history of public menorahs. In 1989, the Supreme Court ruled that public menorahs did not violate the separation of church and state, and a subsequent challenge in Cincinnati in 2003 “cemented the menorah’s constitutional status,” JNS reported.

Waldman, who was 19 when she fled Libya with her family due to antisemitic persecution, connects to the story of Hanukkah on a personal level.

“For me, it wasn’t just a menorah. It was what the menorah represents, which is the fight that the Maccabees, at the time, fought to rid themselves of the horrible tortures that were … killing the Jewish people,” Waldman said. “I think symbolically as the years evolved, the lights of the menorah became representational of freedom. I think not just Jews but many people identify with that.”

Jew,  Jewish,  J. The Jewish News of Northern California
Emma Goss.(Photo/Aaron Levy-Wolins)
Emma Goss

Emma Goss is a J. staff writer. She is a Bay Area native and an alum of Gideon Hausner Jewish Day School and Kehillah Jewish High School. Emma also reports for NBC Bay Area. Follow her on Twitter @EmmaAudreyGoss.