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Chabad Jewish Center  celebrates first Chanukah

Michael R. Schmidt~For Sun-Times Media
Rabbi Mendel Shemtov Director Chabad Elg  Hoffman Estates lights second candle Menorah during their celebratiChanukah

Michael R. Schmidt~For Sun-Times Media Rabbi Mendel Shemtov, Director of the Chabad of Elgin & Hoffman Estates lights the second candle of the Menorah during their celebration of Chanukah Sunday evening in Elgin.

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Updated: January 12, 2013 6:11AM

ELGIN — The lighting of the Menorah at Chabad Jewish Center of Elgin marked the congregation’s first celebration of Chanukah for more than 50 guests who attended Sunday evening.

Rabbi Mendel Shemtov said he’s hopeful the new community also presents an “opportunity for anyone who wants to express their Judaism.”

The facility, at 30W509 Shoemaker Road in Elgin, began operating as Chabad Jewish Center of Elgin & Hoffman Estates in July, he explained. A native of Toledo, Ohio, Shemtov recently served as rabbi in Brooklyn, N.Y.

In addition to the lighting of the Menorah, Sunday’s two-hour gathering included entertainment for children, and a reception prepared by Shemtov’s wife, Shterna Sara Shemtov, including homemade soups, fresh baked goods and latkes, a traditional Jewish pancake.

“We’re focused to reach out to every Jew, specifically the ones that are unaffiliated with a congregation, the ones that aren’t aware of their Jewish heritage,” he said. “We want to open our doors to everyone.”

Monetary fees are not required to be part of a Chabad, he explained, adding that many Jews in the United States actually are disconnected from their faith.

“It’s very common for people,” he said. “Often it’s that they had a bad experience in Hebrew school or they didn’t have the money to belong to synagogue.”

Cathy Ilani of Elgin attended the event with her son Coby and her mother, Carol LeRoy of Elgin. Ilani said the occasion brought to life her late father Robert LeRoy’s vision.

“My father always had a dream of having a synagogue on this property,” Ilani said, explaining that her mother donated the building that is now Chabad Jewish Center of Elgin. Robert LeRoy died nearly eight years ago and was a Holocaust survivor, Carol LeRoy said.

Chabads typically have key donors who sustain the organizations so that the congregation is not obligated to contribute funds, Ilani noted.

All welcome

As principal of Einstein Academy in Elgin, Ilani said she welcomed one of the school’s fourth-grade students to the lighting of the Menorah event. Three years ago, the child had expressed an enthusiasm for a multi-holiday craft project at Einstein Academy because it gave her an opportunity to connect with Chanukah, part of the student’s own Russian culture, Ilani said.

Welcoming people of all cultures and faiths is a cornerstone of Chabad, Ilani explained.

“Chabad is open to everyone, Jewish or non-Jewish,” she said.

The tradition of eating foods prepared in oil reflects the importance of oil in Judaism’s history.

As Mendel lit the congregation’s 6-foot Menorah, he touched on the symbolism of oil.

“When the Jewish people came into the temple, they found just enough oil to last for one day,” he said. “They lit the Menorah and miraculously the candles stayed lit for eight days.”

The Menorah has become a symbol of religious freedom, he continued. The Menorah consists of nine candles in one row, with the center candle as the tallest. Mendel described how the candles are lit successively for the holiday. Each day of the eight-day celebration, the center candle is lit along with an additional candle starting from the far right until the final day, when all eight are illuminated. That symbolizes the faith’s goal of bringing more light into the world as time goes on.

“We lit one candle yesterday (for the first day of Chanukah), and tonight we light two candles,” he said. “Last night one candle was enough to expel the darkness from amongst us. Tonight one candle is not enough. We can’t be satisfied with what we did yesterday.”

Chabad Centre of Elgin offers classes for adults and children. More information about the organization is available at

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