MANATEE -- Hanukkah cheer is coming to a street near you.
And you don’t have to be Jewish to enjoy the festivities and the celebration of religious freedom.
Public menorah lighting ceremonies are planned in downtown Bradenton and Lakewood Ranch.
The downtown Bradenton Hanukkah celebration, with Temple Beth El and Congregation Ner Tamid participating, is set for 6 p.m. Monday in front of the Manatee Players Theater, 102 12th St. W.
A public menorah lighting celebration is also planned 6:30 p.m. Wednesday at Lakewood Ranch Main Street.
The Bradenton celebration will include singing, dancing and readings by religious leaders, members and religious school students from Temple Beth El and Congregation Ner Tamid.
At Lakewood Ranch, there will be live music, a hip-hop dance group, traditional doughnuts, latkes, cotton candy and more.
Regardless of what the weather may bring, it will be a “wonderful night,” says Rabbi Mendy Bukiet of Chabad of Bradenton. “We make the best of everything. In place of real darkness we have to bring out the real light.”
Hanukkah, the Festival of Lights, is celebrated over eight days and commemorates the rededication of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem at the time of the Maccabean Revolt.
Jewish families mark each night of Hanukkah by lighting a candle on a menorah and reciting a blessing. The number of candles should match the night of Hanukkah.
“We put the menorah in our window to celebrate who we are,” said Rabbi Barbara Aiello of Congregation Ner Tamid.
As Jews celebrate their religious freedom, Hanukkah is also a time for rededication to the value of acceptance and celebration of people of all faiths, she said.
Aiello recalls a lesson from her childhood in the 1950s, when she was selected to portray Mary in a nativity scene at her public school. When her father learned about it, he told her that he thought it would be inappropriate for her to play the role and gave her an early lesson in religious tolerance.
“My father explained to us children that we need to be respectful of the Christmas holiday. It’s like being a guest at someone else’s birthday party. You are a guest and the party is not for you,” Aiello recalled.
“My father said, ‘You can be a sheep, or nothing.’”
Aiello serves as chaplain at Kobernick Anchin, an assisted living facility where most of the residents are Jewish.
“We have five Hanukkah celebrations at Kobernick Anchin. Today I talked about the town where the Hanukkah story took place. I brought in about 30 of my menorahs and talked about the history of Hanukkah,” Aiello said.
Many of the residents also bring in their menorahs to be displayed in the rotunda of Kobernick.
Some of the residents at Kobernick Anchin are Christian, and there is a Christmas tree and observance of the season for them, too, Aiello said.
Rabbi Harold Caminker said Temple Beth El has its biggest service and program of the year 6 p.m. Friday in the Unity Social Hall, 4200 32nd St. W., Bradenton.
“We have a service in the round, followed immediately by a big potluck dinner featuring every Hanukkah delicacy imaginable. That’s always fun,” Caminker said.
Anyone desiring to attend the pot luck should call Temple Beth El at 941-755-4900, 9 a.m. to noon Tuesday through Friday to RSVP and to get a list of the foods needed for the dinner.
James A. Jones Jr., East Manatee editor, can be contacted at 941-745-7021. Tweet: @jajones1