Decker Menorah will be a year-round symbol of Jewish faith

A giant steel menorah was painstakingly lowered into place in front of the Chabad-Aleph House on Decker Boulevard this week just in time for the eight-day celebration of Hanukkah, which began at dusk Wednesday.

Rabbi Hesh Epstein said the menorah, which measures 9-by-12 feet, will be a permanent fixture on Decker, taking its place on the 18-foot steel pole where the old Blockbuster video sign stood. The nine-branched candelabrum, a symbol rooted in ancient Judaism, will be lit for the first time Sunday, the fifth night of Hanukkah, the Festival of Lights.

“For us, it is an artistic expression of Jewish life,” said Epstein, who watched as Flagship Sign Co. employee Jamie Bannister, positioned inside the bucket of a truck, guided the steel menorah in place high above the street.

The vision for the menorah — at 27 feet, the tallest in the Carolinas - originated a decade ago with Fred Seidenberg, president of Mid-Carolina Steel, which donated the raw materials for the menorah, Epstein said.

That dream was aided by David Zalesne, president of Owen Steel Co., which fabricated the steel as that company’s contribution.

“We were in Israel two years ago, on Hanukkah, watching the lighting of a giant menorah,” Zalesne recalled. “We said, alright, its time we got this built in Columbia.”

Fabricating the menorah involved lots of tubes and poles, he said. “It’s a lot of small pieces welded together.” The lamps were affixed just before the menorah was raised atop the pole.

Synagogue president David Lowsky said the project came together over the last months and will serve as a welcome beacon to the Jewish faith community. It highlights the synagogue’s growth and expansion from the Learning Shul, which met at the Rockbridge Club, to Chabad-Aleph House under the leadership of Rabbi Epstein, Rabbi Meir Muller and Rabbi Levi Marrus.

The synagogue purchased the old Blockbuster property in 2011, completely renovated the building, and opened it earlier this year. The newly painted facade is a welcome addition to Decker, which has been targeted by Richland County for revitalization.

The menorah installation came a day before the annual Menorah Lighting at the Statehouse, a tradition that this year drew USC President Harris Pastides as the main speaker. The ceremony and accompanying festivities occurred early on the holiday calendar this year — for the first time in 100 years the first day of Hanukkah and Thanksgiving fell on the same day.

Hanukkah commemorates an ancient biblical miracle and a military victory over the Greek-Syrians that led to the reclaiming of the second temple of Jerusalem. As they prepared the temple for re-dedication, the Maccabee resistance fighters found enough oil to light the eternal candle for one night; miraculously, the oil lasted for eight days.

Modern Jews celebrate Hanukkah with festive meals, the lighting of the menorah each evening and the giving of gifts.

As his family prepared for Hanukkah, Rabbi Marrus took time Tuesday to snap some photographs of the menorah rising on Decker.

“This is so incredible on so many levels,” he said.

Now, Epstein said he’ll be able to provide specific directions to visitors.

“We used to say we are across from the Chic-Fil-A,” he said. Now we’ll say we’re beside the menorah.”