One tradition of Judaism gets a fanciful update every year by the Chabad Jewish Center in Needham, with its Hanukkah menorah-lighting ceremony on the downtown common. Each time, the menorah changes: Last year, it glowed a luminous blue-green, and past versions have been made from Legos, ice, and balloons.
This year, the ancient menorah will be thoroughly modern: crowdsourced and digitally designed, built from the winning entry in a contest using 3D modeling software from Needham-based Parametric Technology Corp.
“On one hand, we’re very traditional; on the other hand, we’re very cutting edge,” said Rabbi Mendy Krinsky, the director of the Chabad Jewish Center. “We’re here to serve the people on their level in 2012, and we’re going to use the tools of the modern era to spread our message.”
The menorah will be unveiled on Dec. 11, the fourth night of Hanukkah this year, in a public lighting ceremony on Needham Common. The entry deemed to be the most creative and original menorah in the Chabad Jewish Center’s design contest will be brought to life by a team of builders, and the winning designer will receive an iPad or $500 cash as a prize.
“We always try to think of something original and do something cool,” said Krinksy. This year’s contest, he said, was meant to keep the celebration exciting and fresh. “If you run out of ideas, let other people have ideas.”
There were 15 entrants in the contest, said Krinsky. The winning menorah must, among other things, be between 5 and 8 feet tall, be easily assembled by hand using simple tools, and conform to religious rules for kosher Hanukkah menorahs.
Krinsky said past menorah lightings have drawn about a hundred people. The celebration this year will feature live music, dancing, hot beverages, and donuts.
The menorah lighting, said Board of Selectmen chairman Jerry Wasserman, serves as a nice complement to the town’s annual Blue Tree lighting ceremony.
“To me, it’s a part of the deep ethnic variety of the town,” said Wasserman.
Hanukkah marks the victory of a small band of Jewish fighters over a large army of Syrian-Greek forces that had taken over the Second Temple in Jerusalem in the second century BC. As the Jews rededicated the temple, they found only enough oil to light its menorah for one day — but miraculously the oil burned for eight days.
The menorah-lighting ceremony, said Krinsky, is open to everyone, Jewish or not. The story of Hanukkah, he said, resonates beyond the Jewish religion, and so its celebration can be shared with everyone.
“It’s right over might, good over evil, light over darkness,” said Krinsky. “America is built on a similar kind of story. So it’s very American, it’s very universal.”