MANATEE -- One of the most joyous times on the Jewish calendar, Hanukkah -- the Festival of Lights -- will be celebrated in a very public way with the lighting of menorahs in Bradenton and Lakewood Ranch next week.
In what has become a seven-year tradition at Chabad of Bradenton and Lakewood Ranch, a 9-foot menorah will be lighted at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday at Lakewood Ranch Main Street. Along with the lighting of the giant menorah, there will be a community celebration of the first night of Hanukkah with live music and party lights, frying and decorating traditional doughnuts and a walk-in Dreidel (spinning top) house. Also, children will have an opportunity to have their pictures made with Judah the Maccabbee.
There will also be a downtown Bradenton menorah lighting 6 p.m. Dec. 5 outside near Manatee Players, organized by Temple Beth El. Religious school children from Temple Beth El and from Congregation Ner Tamid will join together to perform Hanukkah songs.
Another public celebration of Hanukkah is planned by Congregation Ner Tamid, 3817 40th Ave. W. at 6 p.m. on Friday, when hundreds of people bring their own menorahs for a combined lighting ceremony.
“It’s a wonderful mix of people of all ages,” said Rena Moreno, education director for Congregation Ner Tamid.
Moreno, Rabbi Harold Caminker of Temple Beth El, and Chanie Bukiet, program director of Chabad of Bradenton and Lakewood Ranch, all say that the public Hanukkah celebrations have appeal beyond the Jewish faith, attracting some who are curious about Judaism and others who just want to join in a happy celebration.
“Hanukkah is all about light prevailing over darkness, about adding goodness to the world,” Bukiet said.
“That is one of the appeals of the holiday, about doing good deeds for one another,” Bukiet said.
When Jews light their Hanukkah menorahs, they are supposed to display the lighted menorah in places where neighbors and friends can see them, Caminker said.
“It gives us an opportunity to explain the miracle of Hanukkah to our friends and neighbors, who may not be of the Jewish faith,” he said.
“It’s a very joyous holiday. Some say it was the first military struggle for religious freedom in history,” Caminker said, referring to a successful rebellion of Jews more than 21 centuries ago to drive out occupying Syrians.
After the Jews reclaimed their holy temple, they were only able to find enough oil to burn temple lamps for a day.
The miracle was that the oil lasted eight days, which is why Hanukkah is celebrated for eight days, with one candle being lighted each night of the holiday.
The public menorah lightings also celebrate the freedom of worship in the United States. “We are thankful for that,” Bukiet said.
Judah Maccabee, who led the Maccabean revolt against the Syrians more than 2,000 years ago, is regarded as one of the greatest heroes in Jewish history.
That’s why Chabad of Bradenton and Lakewood Ranch will feature him at their community Hanukkah event Wednesday.
For many, a highlight is the making and decorating of doughnuts and sharing in potato pancakes known as latkes.
“It was the most exciting time of the year,” Bukiet said of her childhood memories of Hanukkah. “We love eating the latkes. We always had a great time. My mother always made doughnuts for us and allowed us to decorate them.”
Wednesday, adults and children alike will be able to decorate freshly fried doughnuts at Lakewood Ranch Main Street.
Caminker and Moreno are pleased that their congregations are sharing in the holiday through the singing of children Sunday in downtown Bradenton.
“We just had a rehearsal last Sunday,” Caminker said. “They made a very nice little choir. It was very inspiring.”
Moreno explains part of the universal appeal of Hanukkah by quoting a familiar saying, “It’s better to light a candle than curse the darkness.”
“I think that is something the entire public, not just the Jewish population, can relate to. People have the ability to rise to the light of heaven so to speak. We watch the light go heavenward and that’s an inspiration for all people, regardless of their backgrounds,” she said.
James A. Jones Jr., East Manatee Editor, can be contacted at 745-7021.