Lights, laughter and prayer

LAKEWOOD RANCH -- It was an evening of joyful celebration as Chabad of Bradenton and Lakewood Ranch kicked off the first night of Hanukkah with a 9-foot menorah set up along Lakewood Ranch Main Street.

A warmly-dressed crowd sang and prayed as the menorah’s first candle was lit during the traditional Jewish holiday observance.

Hanukkah celebrates the rededication of the Temple after the successful Jewish revolt against the Seleucid monarchy, according to Rabbi Mendy Bukiet of Chabad of Bradenton.

The Jews found only enough ritually pure olive oil to light the menorah for one day, but the supply lasted eight days until a new supply could be obtained, he said.

Wednesday, the commemoration entailed party lights, music, raffles, a Dreidel House and kosher food.

People noshed on a popular Middle Eastern dish called falafel, made from chick peas or beans, and tried a type of potato pancake called latkes. Children enjoyed cotton candy and freshly-cooked doughnuts topped with sprinkles, icing or jam.

“In a world with a lot of pain and suffering, each one of us has the opportunity to bring a little light into this world,” the rabbi said.

Celia Nachlas, 66, of Bradenton, missed her children and grandchildren, who had recently moved from the area back to Maryland.

She was glad to be among friends to enjoy the fellowship, she said.

“You don’t celebrate Hanukkah home alone,” she added.

To her, the most important part of the holiday was to observe the triumph of freedom and good over evil.

“That’s the big message,” she said.

Some of those attending the festivities wandered into adjacent shops and restaurants as the cold night wore on.

A salesperson at Vanessa Fine Jewelry said the store remained open Wednesday past its normal closing time of 6 p.m. because of the Hanukkah celebration taking place outside.

“We’ll remain open till 8,” she said.

She was rewarded by a couple who wandered in to look at the glistening jewelry spotlighted in the store’s glass cases.