Menorah lighting ceremony at 12 Wing Shearwater

Rabbi Yakov Kerzner from Beth Israel Synagogue, seen here with CWO Bruno Poirier, led the lighting of the Menorah outside of 12 Wing Headquarters in Shearwater on December 1.

Menorah lighting ceremony at 12 Wing Shearwater

By Joanie Veitch,
Trident Staff

A small group of people gathered at 12 Wing Shearwater to take part in the lighting of the menorah on December 1, the fourth night of Hanukkah.

A ceremony celebrating the Jewish “festival of lights” was also held at 12 Wing last year.

From left, CWO Bruno Poirier, Rabbi Yakov Kerzner, Padre Lt(N) Stephen Cogswell and Padre Capt Troy Dennis.

“It’s really nice to see this happening again this year. I think that this is a great opportunity for people who, like me, are Jewish members in the CAF,” said Sub-Lieutenant Jacob Bromhead, who attended the ceremony with his wife and 11-month-old baby girl.

SLt Bromhead, who works at CFB Halifax Base Administration and is currently on paternity leave, said he appreciates “the recognition” of one of his religion’s observances in a work setting.

“To be able to go, with my wife and daughter… this is very special for us. I’m glad that they did it,” he said.

The initiative speaks to the spirit of diversity amongst the military chaplains at 12 Wing, said Rabbi Yakov Kerzner, of the Beth Israel Synagogue in Halifax, who led the ceremony, along with 12 Wing chaplain Padre Lt(N) Stephen Cogswell.

“It was very moving for me to see the effort Padre Cogswell went to, to make it happen and make sure that the menorah was lit every single night. He went out of his way to make sure the tradition that was started could continue again this year,” said Rabbi Kerzner.

Last year’s ceremony was organized and led by Rabbi Capt Noteh Glogauer, while he was serving as chaplain at 12 Wing.  Using a six-foot outdoor menorah that had been packaged and shipped to him from his previous posting at 17 Wing Winnipeg, Rabbi Capt Glogauer led what is believed to be the first ever menorah lighting ceremony at 12 Wing.

Rabbi Capt Glogauer is currently serving with the Royal Canadian Navy as a fleet chaplain on board HMCS Winnipeg, which is on a four-month deployment in the Asia-Pacific region.

Although Padre Lt(N) Cogswell wasn’t at that initial menorah lighting ceremony, in taking Rabbi Capt Glogaue’s place as chaplain at 12 Wing, the padre has thought a lot about the menorah over the past several months.

“It was stored in my office so I’m looking at it every day. That’s what started the idea (to have the ceremony),” he said.

As Padre Lt(N) Cogswell and Rabbi Capt Glogauer were in touch regularly via What’s App and Facebook, they discussed what would be involved in holding a ceremony. Rabbi Capt Glogauer connected Padre Lt(N) Cogswell with Rabbi Kerzner at the Beth Israel Synagogue and plans began to take shape.

“As a Protestant Baptist clergy person for much of my vocational life, it was the first time that I have helped facilitate a menorah lighting to commemorate Hanukkah. That’s part of the excitement of being a chaplain in the Canadian Armed Forces… you get to have all these amazing experiences and opportunities,” said Padre Lt(N) Cogswell.

Hanukkah is an eight-day celebration that commemorates an historic event from the second century BCE, when a small group of Jews fought a large army to reclaim their Holy Temple in Jerusalem. Although they only had a day’s worth of oil to relight the temple’s menorah after the battle, the small supply lasted for eight full days.

While Hanukkah celebrates that “miracle of light” from so long ago, for Rabbi Kerzner there’s a message in the story of Hanukkah that has resonance today.

“For me the significance is about the importance of fighting for our identity and… being able to worship in the way that we choose. It’s about the importance of religious diversity and that sense of respect for the rights of others to worship as they please. If we have mutual respect, life will be meaningful for everyone. I felt that spirit in the ceremony at 12 Wing. It was very meaningful,” he said.

Padre Lt(N) Cogswell arranged to have the menorah in place for November 28, the first day of Hanukkah this year. For safety reasons, the menorah uses LED lights but on the evening of the menorah-lighting ceremony, a glass bulb with a real flame was lit.

Attending the ceremony along with Padre Lt(N) Cogswell and Rabbi Kerzner, were 12 Wing Chief Warrant Officer Bruno Poirier and Padre Capt Troy Dennis, senior base chaplain at CFB Halifax, along with several Jewish military members.

“It was a joy to be involved and help facilitate something like this, especially so within the CAF context,” said Padre Lt(N) Cogswell. “It was a very moving experience.”

The menorah was lit each evening from November 28 until December 6, the end of Hanukkah this year.