SALT LAKE CITY — Yarden Zamir will leave this week for one of the most volatile parts of the world to enlist in the Israeli army.
The 18-year-old West High School graduate who came to the United States at age 6 said she believes she has a duty to serve her homeland.
"I grew up as a Zionist, and I felt like it was really important for me to go serve in Israel," Zamir said, "because if I want to live there one day, which is very possible, I wouldn't feel right doing it without serving like everyone else."
Israeli men and women face mandatory military service at age 18. Men serve in combat units for three years, while women typically serve in noncombat positions for two, though combat also is an option. Because she lives outside Israel, Zamir's service is voluntary. She will train to be an artillery instructor.
Zamir joined members of the Utah's Jewish community Sunday night for a Hanukkah celebration and the lighting of a large menorah at Gallivan Plaza. In addition to rousing traditional music, they enjoyed potato latkes and jelly donuts. Children received dreidels to play with and two coins — one to keep and one to put in a charity box.
Rabbi Benny Zippel, who conducted the ceremony, said many people live in darkness due to depression, confusion, sadness or lack of direction.
"Hanukkah reminds us that a little light can defeat an empire of darkness, human goodness can defy terror and brute force, and life and spiritual vitality can overcome destruction," Zippel said.
"The eternal message of the menorah lights has particular significance in light of current world events, which remind us all too starkly that the forces of oppression and darkness are still present," he said.
Zippel, executive director of Chabad Lubavitch of Utah, said the menorah signifies the commitment of Utahns to uphold the personal and religious freedom guaranteed by the Constitution. It also is a symbol of the community's dedication to preserving religious liberties.
Hanukkah, or Jewish Festival of Lights, commemorates the rededication of the temple after the victory over the Syrians in 165 B.C.
During the occupation of Jerusalem, the Syrian Greeks desecrated the oils prepared for the lighting of the menorah, which was part of the daily service in the temple. After recapturing the temple, the Jewish people found one lone jar of undefiled oil, enough to burn only one day, but it lasted for eight days.
Jewish people ever since have celebrated Hanukkah for eight days by lighting an eight-branched candelabra. This year, it started Dec. 8 and ends Dec. 16.
Before lighting the candles, Zippel noted the current tensions and difficulties in Israel. He sang a song and pronounced a blessing on Zamir.
Zamir, who spoke only Hebrew when she came to Utah but became a Sterling Scholar runner-up in English, said she feels comfortable and safe in Israel. Her older brother currently serves in the military, and she has other family there. Her parents, who both served in the Israeli army, will remain in Utah.
"There are moments where it's stressful, but it's a strong group of people who live in Israel. They love the land they live in, and they make it home," she said.
Although she said Israel has "some pretty aggressive neighbors," she believes the army is prepared to protect the country.
"I'm very confident the army will train me for what I need to do," Zamir said.
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