Jewish festival lights up riverfront

BRADENTON — A crowd of 70 cheered Sunday night as Rabbi Harold Caminker of Temple Beth El officially began what he and others called the first public lighting of a menorah in downtown Bradenton.

The lighting of the 10-foot electric menorah on the Manatee Players lawn was part of the Jewish Festival of Lights, called Hanukkah, which began at sundown Friday and runs eight days.

The holiday honors the Maccabees, a small, ancient band of brothers who were known for their courage. The clan was able to rededicate the Holy Temple in Jerusalem after the Syrian army had desecrated it.

The Maccabees thought they only had enough oil to burn in the renewed temple for one day, but the oil lasted eight days, a miracle which has come to stand for the survival of the Jewish people over time, Caminker said.

The story of the oil is why the menorah, or candle holder, has room for eight candles and a helper candle to light the others.

Whether it was the soft orangy light from the electric menorah, the singing of “Oh Chanukah” or the sight of Loren Hoffman’s six-month old white poodle, Moshi, dressed in his “I Love Latkes” sweater, the crowd was festive.

“This was fabulous night,” said Robyn Spirtas, the Temple’s membership director, who has signed up 20 new families in the last four months. “Based on the success of tonight, we may want to do more if we can in future years.”

Members from Temple Beth El, Bradenton’s first synagogue, say the strong turnout on a balmy evening has encouraged them to try another menorah lighting again next year and maybe even add a band and some dancing.

“The best part of (Sunday night) was the happy, warm feelings,” said Temple member Beverly Safron.

Caminker said it was “an honor and privilege” to be part of a Temple that responds to an event like this with overwhelming enthusiasm.

“I think it was a big success,” Caminker added.

Cantor Alan Cohn’s voice boomed out over the riverfront on songs like “Who Can Retell.”

Nine Temple members participated in a reading about each of the nine candles.

They were Betty Klein, Barbara Peltz, Hannah Berkow, Safron, Shiela Kovalsky, Greg Hoffman, Sherry Weiss, Andrew Clark and Shiela Maslow.