Chanukah Parade Lights Up Park Heights


Rabbi Chesky Tenebaum (Provided)

Hundreds of people came out of their homes in Northwest Baltimore to wave and dance on the evening of Dec. 26 as the annual Chanukah parade drove by. For the first time, the parade took place throughout the Park Heights area, starting and ending at Cheder Chabad rather than making its way to downtown’s McKeldin Square as it had in years past.

With a caravan of 55 vehicles boasting mounted menorahs and flashing lights, this year’s parade was a true tribute to the Festival of Lights. An assortment of cars, trucks and ambulances along with a fire truck tailed behind the six-motorcycle police cavalcade and a trailer toting a 6-foot-tall menorah.

“This year, we decided to start and end the parade at Cheder Chabad due to the Chanukah Festival taking place on the 25th, when a lot of people were away,” said Rabbi Chesky Tenenbaum, director of development at Cheder Chabad of Baltimore and director of the Jewish Uniformed Service Association of Maryland. “The past six years, it has been going downtown. We’ll have to see about options for next year.”

Tenenbaum actually had the privilege of participating in one of the first Chanukah car parades in Brooklyn more than 30 years ago.

“Chanukah is also known as the Festival of Lights,” he said, “and what better way to spread light and celebrate Chanukah than with a parade of menorahs?”

Following the procession, many community members, including state Del. Sandy Rosenberg (D-District 41) and Rabbi Elchonon Lisbon, gathered at Cheder Chabad to light their menorah in lieu of the traditional downtown lighting.

The December Dilemma How interfaith families make the holidays meaningful

cover_rotatorThe December Dilemma is a reality that many interfaith families live out each holiday season. The big question is how to balance Christmas and Chanukah in a family with a parent of each faith.

While families try to keep the meaning of Chanukah at the forefront of their celebrations, it can be difficult living in a country that overwhelmingly celebrates Christmas, particularly in a season such as this during which Christmas Eve and the first night of Chanukah share the same date.

Some experts argue that the overlap between these two holidays is a good thing, however. It provides the ideal opportunity for open dialogue between faiths, setting the grounds for each to share important traditions and practice.

“It is important to try to recast what has sometimes been referred to as ‘December Dilemma’ to ‘December Delights,’” said Dr. Keren McGinity, director of Interfaith Families Jewish Engagement at Hebrew College’s Shoolman Graduate School of Jewish Education. “Give interfaith families the support they need to honor all of their family members as well as engage Jewishly. There is no one correct way. What is better for one family is not necessarily the solution for another.”

For interfaith families that are raising their children Jewish, the problem boils down to how to celebrate and properly respect the traditions of each faith without confusing the Jewish identity of their children.

Keren McGinity teaches her daughter, Shira, about Chanukah. (Provided)

Keren McGinity teaches her daughter, Shira, about Chanukah. (Provided)

“I encourage families to celebrate with distinction,” said McGinity. “By that, I mean to acknowledge both the sanctity of the Christmas holiday and the historical reality and meaning of Chanukah. Not to blend the two, but rather to celebrate each on its own merit and in ways that are meaningful to all parties.”

Sykesville resident Erica Hamilton is Jewish, but she and her kids celebrate Christmas with her husband’s family. This year, to accommodate observance of both holidays, the family simply planned parties on different dates to give room for proper celebrations.

“It took some extra planning,” said Hamilton, “but it is very important to me that for our children, Chanukah is seen as this great celebration just as much as Christmas, rather than one over the other. We give them both their due.”

Even on Christmas Eve, the Hamilton family won’t skip saying the Chanukah prayers and lighting the menorah before celebrating with the Christian side of their family.

Pikesville resident Mandee Heinl is raising a Jewish family with her Catholic husband, Steve. Although their kids are still very young, Mandee said they understand the Chanukah traditions, and she plans to teach them more of the story as they get older. The Heinl children also experience Christmas at their grandparents’ house, where the family has a tree and gives out presents.

“I know some families do presents for Chanukah, but we have never done that. We try to stick to traditions such as jelly doughnuts and latkes, lighting the menorah, gelt and dreidels,” she said. “Santa does not come to our home. I think it would be confusing to have more than one religion in our home, but that could change, and they will have more questions as they get older. Right now, we stick to Chanukah to keep it clear for them.”

Celebrating non-Jewish holidays with friends and family should never be considered detrimental to a child’s Jewish identity, some rabbis say.

“I tell families with Christian relatives that they should make sure they are celebrating whatever holiday with that side of the family. It’s an often-used analogy, ‘They’re going to someone else’s party,’” said Rabbi Andrew Busch of Baltimore Hebrew Congregation. “The core issue is if your goal is to raise Jewish children, the majority of your own celebration should focus on emphasizing the Jewish holiday.”

Heinl thinks the cross-pollination of religions can be a learning experience for children.


Mandee Heinl’s two young children experience both Christmas and Chanukah. (Photos by Mandee Heinl)

cover5“We have Jewish children, but they don’t miss any Catholic traditions that my husband wants in their lives,” said Heinl. “He takes my lead in Judaism, and I take his in how he wants to integrate his religion into it. I’m not intimidated by another faith, I have a strong Jewish identity and I hope my kids will too, but I think being around other religions is a win. They learn about people and cultures that believe differently than they do. I still want to instill a strong Jewish identity in them, but I don’t think teaching them to be wary of a different faith is a good way to do that.”

The Hamiltons and the Heinls are far from the only families navigating a two-tradition holiday season. Twenty percent of married participants in the 2010 Greater Baltimore Jewish Community study were intermarried.

That rate was 42 percent among non-Orthodox Jews ages 18 to 34. Thirty-six percent of practicing Jews surveyed in the Pew Research Center’s 2013 study “A Portrait of Jewish Americans” were intermarried, compared with 79 percent among secular Jews. According to the study, 35 percent of Jews intermarried in the years 1970 to 1974. Between 2005 and 2013, 58 percent of married Jews had non-Jewish spouses, a 23 percent increase.

Commercialization and the Holidays

While Chanukah is of less religious significance to Jews than Christmas is to Christians, some feel Chanukah has become commercialized like Christmas due to the coinciding timing of the holidays.

“I think a lot of Christians would say Christmas is out of control in its commercialism,” said Rabbi Steven Schwartz of Beth El Congregation. “I have for a long time advocated bringing Chanukah back to its humble origins, I don’t think it is helpful to the celebration of Chanukah to try and make it into Christmas. We should celebrate it for what it is, but I don’t think there is a need to make a huge to-do about it.”

For Jews from other countries, celebrating Chanukah in America might come with a bit of culture shock.

“It has become clearer to me as a South African Jew that there is a different way to celebrate Chanukah,” said Lara Nicolson, director of Shalom Baltimore and interfaith engagement at the JCC of Greater Baltimore. “When I moved here 12 years ago, I realized American Jewish culture is very different. We have fallen into buying eight gifts and decorating our home for Chanukah. We have lights, and [our home] looks festive like many of the non-Jewish homes in the neighborhood.”

JCC interfaith engagement director Lara Nicolson plays dreidel with Ayelet Snyder at Foundry Row. (Photo by JCC)

JCC interfaith engagement director Lara Nicolson plays dreidel with Ayelet Snyder at Foundry Row. (Photo by JCC)

Having been raised in a country where Chanukah was more about family being together, lighting and displaying the menorah and making the traditional food, Nicolson was surprised by the complexity of the American holiday season. “Christmas is a major holiday for Christians, and it has become a very big American civil holiday,” she said. “But the gifts and the trees, they are American traditions.”

While some feel the commercialization of Chanukah can be detrimental to its traditions, it can be a valuable opportunity to educate non- Jews about the holiday — many are unaware of its minor religious significance relative to other holidays.

“The Chanukah that we talk about as competitive of Christmas is the American cultural observance, not the religious observance,” said Rabbi Jessy Gross, senior director of Jewish Learning at the JCC of Greater Baltimore. “Setting up a dichotomy between the holidays is something interfaith families have to deal with, but ultimately as a rabbi, I want people to feel connected to Jewish values and ideologies. What I care about is that people know the story of why we celebrate Chanukah in the first place.”

So how does one emphasize Chanukah to children in a way that empowers their Jewish identity? Tradition is a big part of Chanukah, but simply lighting the candles and giving gifts is not necessarily provoking the questions that an interfaith family may need to ask.

“It’s a holiday about rededicating [the Second Temple], so every year, we need to rededicate ourselves to retelling the story of Chanukah and doing so with historical accuracy,” said McGinity.

PJ Library, housed in the Macks Center for Jewish Education, provides resources for families looking to educate interfaith children about the holidays. Gabrielle Burger, the library’s director, recommends “Nonna’s Hanukkah Surprise” by Karen Fisman.

“A little girl named Rachel travels to visit her Italian grandmother during the holiday season and made a special menorah to bring with her,” Burger said. “The menorah gets left behind, so the girl’s non-Jewish grandmother goes to great lengths to create her own handmade menorah and to surprise Rachel with it as a gift so that they can continue to celebrate the holidays together.” This book illustrates how interfaith families can respect each other’s traditions.

This holiday season, PJ Library is sponsoring thematic Chanukah programming addressing heroism and how people can be heroes with a program focusing on the story of Judah Maccabee and how the Maccabees were able to fight for religious freedom, “which is something everyone can appreciate,” said Burger.

Saadya Baron and her daughter enjoy the JCC Chanukah event at the Foundry Row Wegmans. (Photo by JCC)

Saadya Baron and her daughter enjoy the JCC Chanukah event at the Foundry Row Wegmans. (Photo by JCC)

“We are moving away from the concept of gift giving — people were so happy to hear we were moving the needle away from commercialism and more toward how you can be the best and make the world a better place,” Burger said. “At every Chanukah program this year, we are giving out a bag with four pieces of gelt, two dreidels and a ‘value’ card that speaks about Judah Maccabee and the concepts of gevurah (heroism) and chesed (kindness), the values we are instilling in our families.”

While some might question giving out a gift bag after stating that the library is moving away from gifts, it is for good reason. Rather than seeing it as giving a gift, Burger sees the gift bags as something people can take home to continue Jewish education.

“We are trying to get a paradigm shift for the entire family,” Burger said. “It’s easier to understand [the meaning of Chanukah] by talking about the different aspects rather than the religion behind it. It is considered the festival of lights, and we talk about different kinds of candles and how you can bring light into your community. Gelt is so important because after the Maccabees’ victory was the first time that Jews minted their own money with Jewish symbols and Hebrew letters on it.”

Reinforcing Jewish Identity

“I always have been of the belief that these issues are more complicated for adults than for children,” said Schwartz. “A child is told, ‘Oh, you’re Jewish or Christian or whatever,’ and the child says, ‘OK, that’s me.’ A kid can go to a grandparents’ Christmas celebration and know, ‘I’m a Jew, but my grandpa isn’t.’ It isn’t going to impact the child’s Jewish identity, and I remind families of that. It’s also important to make sure to respect the other faith’s traditions, to understand what they are and what their origin is. [A Christmas celebration as a Jew] doesn’t have to be threatening.”

Rabbi Busch echoed Schwartz’s sentiment.

“It will be simpler for both the children and the family if they have only one religion in their household, but I know families very successfully raising Jewish children who take a more complicated approach,” said Busch. “If the goal of the parents is to raise Jewish children, the Jewish holiday experience should be the bigger thing in their lives than celebrating anything else. I believe kids can go to other people’s celebrations and understand one family member is not Jewish but the family as a whole is. It is a complicated message, but kids can understand.”

Busch stressed that it is important for kids to be given a consistent message. If a child is observing Shabbat and other Jewish holidays, “they can deal with the complications that arise from celebrating [Christmas] one specific time of the year.”

Snowflakes and eight supersized spinning dreidels displaying Hebrew letters adorn the McGinitys’ home. (Photo by Keren McGinity)

Snowflakes and eight supersized spinning dreidels displaying Hebrew letters adorn the McGinitys’ home. (Photo by Keren McGinity)

Another aspect of the December Dilemma is determining how and where to celebrate both holidays and what objects — Christmas trees, menorahs, gelt — to incorporate into those celebrations.

Often, the solution is a happy combination. Nicolson’s family embraces the mutual holiday season. “We go to a friend’s house who are not Jewish on Christmas,” she said. “We celebrate Christmas Eve and realize it is an important holiday for them. But we also bring latkes and our menorah … We honor them and respect them and give gifts with them, then we go participate in Mitzvah Day.”

However, Nicolson understands that for some interfaith families, celebrating Christmas will be more significant than to others. “Chanukah is not one of our major holidays, and we have eight days,” she said, “so if a family is feeling challenged, you can accept that for some families, [Christmas] will be their major holiday and you should not compete. For those that are struggling with how to steer their traditions in an interfaith family, the first point is that the couple really needs to discuss it with each other first to figure out how to blend their family and faiths.”

For example, Gail Willoughby raised her family Jewish, and although her two children are now grown and identify as Jewish, their entire family attends a Christmas Eve candle-lit service out of respect for Gail’s husband and his traditions.

“We support him during his holidays as he supports us,” explained Willoughby. “He is a Christian, but he is at Beth El a lot for services and not just during the high holidays. It’s interesting because when we go to church, the people are always very curious about our holidays and will come greet me and say happy Chanukah and ask about our traditions. It has been a wonderful opportunity for me, and the conversations that we have are very positive.”

Willoughby regularly engages in interfaith dialogue as a member of the interfaith chavurah at Beth El. A majority of the members are couples with a Jewish mother and non-Jewish father who are raising a Jewish family. As far as celebrating during the holiday time, the general consensus was that they celebrate Christmas with that half of the family but also take their menorah along with them.

“It’s a great time to share our traditions. No one is forgetting Chanukah, we are just showing respect for family members who aren’t Jewish,” said Willoughby. “There is nothing wrong with going and celebrating with family members who aren’t Jewish because there are traditions in other parts of the family.”

Chanukah Is Here!


(David Stuck)

Chabad Lubavitch Centers of Greater Baltimore is once again partnering with the Mayor’s Office for the annual lighting of the 30-foot Esther Ann Menorah, sponsored by David S. Brown Enterprises.

The event will take place as part of the Baltimore Chanukah Festival on Sunday, Dec. 25 at McKeldin Square in Baltimore’s Inner Harbor at 4:30 p.m.

“It’s a great time, and similar events have been taking place around the globe,” said Rabbi Levi Druk, whose Chabad of Downtown is hosting.

“This gives us the opportunity to celebrate as Jews in America,” Druk continued. “It’s also  exciting because the Chabad of Downtown is growing, and this is a way to continue reaching out to and helping to grow the Jewish community downtown.”

Druk detailed that the event is free, tents and patio heaters will be in place to combat the colder weather, and there will be plenty of hot cider, along with Chanukah doughnuts.

The Brooklyn Sandwich Co. food truck from Washington, D.C., will be on the premises for those interested in purchasing New York-deli style glatt kosher food.

There will be various other family-friendly activities to enjoy at the event’s Chanukah Wonderland starting at 2 p.m., including face painting, cookie decorating, an olive press show (in which children can press their own oil), live music and an exhibition by the Dreidel Dancers (who Druk said are exactly what they sound like — dancers dressed up as large dreidels: “They make for good pictures!”).

It’s important to note, as Druk added, that this year’s Chanukah Car Parade will not take place as part of the downtown menorah lighting and will instead occur on Monday, Dec. 26 from 6 p.m. to roughly 7 p.m in the northwest part of Baltimore.

The parade route this year starts and ends at Cheder Chabad in Park Heights, with Rabbi Chesky Tenenbaum — director of the Jewish Uniformed Services Association of Maryland — suggesting the best spot to catch the 75 or so cars fashioned with their own menorah in the procession will be at the intersection of Fallstaff Road and Clarks Lane at around 6:30 p.m.

“Sometimes, we have a trailer with a big menorah that joins the parade,” Tenenbaum said. “Usually, we have a firetruck, the Hatzalah ambulance … and many times even stretch limos to add to the festivities. It’s all a big part of spreading the light throughout the city.”

More information for the downtown Chanukah Festival and Car Parade events at

The JCC’s weeklong celebration of the Festival of Lights, Chanukahpalooza 2016, kicks off with Chanukah at Foundry Row (10100 Reisterstown Road, Owings Mills) on Sunday, Dec. 18 from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.

The series of activities involve Krieger Schechter Day School students singing Chanukah songs, story time and an interactive activity with PJ Library, face painting, balloon art, Dreidel spinning with JCC Early Childhood education Kehillah Project, holiday card making with the Jewish Volunteer Connection, beeswax candles with The  Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore, making edible dreidels and a meet-up at the menorah with Rabbi Jessy Gross.

“We’re hoping to see a lot of familiar faces and families this year,” said JCC senior programmer Sharon Seigel, who is coordinating the event.

On Monday, Dec. 19, Chanukahpalooza’s Chanukah at Hunt Valley Towne Centre goes on from 5 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. with a continuation of many of the activities from the previous day and a program in which 20 percent of all proceeds from those eating at the mall’s California Pizza Kitchen that night go to the JCC.

Family Fun Mitzvah Day, also a component of Chanukahpalooza, happens in partnership with the Jewish Volunteer Connection on Sunday, Dec. 25 from 12 p.m. to 3 p.m. at the Rosenbloom Owings Mill JCC. The free event offers fun activities and mitzvah opportunities for attendees of all ages.

Organizer Laura Green Kendal, director of the afterschool program at the JCC and assistant director of the J Day Camp, said, “This is a great place for people who don’t have somewhere to go on Christmas, whether Jew  or not, who might feel like outsiders during the holiday.

“It’s a place to get together to celebrate community and really have pride in giving back.”

Mitzvah opportunities range from working to supply the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals with different toys and beddings for animals to making holiday cards that will festoon special deliveries for Meals On Wheels and the Make One Take One program in which children can make crafts for themselves and also send craft materials/instructions to patients at Sinai Children’s Hospital.

“All together, we have about nine or 10 mitzvah tables this year,” Kendal said.

Charm City Tribe’s yearly Chanukah Brew Ha Ha is  another Chanukahpalooza event not to be missed and is bubbling up on Wednesday, Dec. 28 at Union Craft Brewery from 7:30 p.m. to 10:30 p.m.

“One of the things that I know Charm City Tribe does well is throw a good party,” said JCC director of Jewish Life and CCT founder/director Gross, who went on to say the Brew Ha Ha will offer great beer along with delicious food from co-sponsors the Green Bowl and the Charmery.

“It’s a great opportunity for all of us to come together and do Jewish rituals as a community,” Gross said. “It will be a unique night for Chanukah.”

The Festival of (Laser) Lights Show at the Gordon Center for Performing Arts will be the final night’s conclusion to the Chanukahpalooza.

The event lights up at 7 p.m. and is appropriate for all ages with “mesmerizing laser beams [that] illuminate the epic tale of Chanukah in a breathtaking display that culminates in the lighting of a giant menorah,” according to the press release.

“It’s a really neat way for the community to come together and celebrate the Festival of Lights this year,” said Gordon Center senior managing director arts and culture Randi Benesch.

More information about the series of events of Chanukahpalooza 2016 at; (Brew Ha Ha registration; or contact  Ellie Brown:; (for laser light show; order tickets online at

For those south of the city, the Jewish Federation of Howard County is hosting a number of Chanukah events. On Dec. 17, Federation members Diane and Rob Freedman host a latkes and vodka party, and on Dec. 28, the Federation hosts its candle lighting, featuring singing and light  refreshments on the fifth night of Chanukah. Visit for more information.

For information on events local synagogues are hosting, visit

For information on musical Chanukah events in the local area, visit

Chanukah Concerts Kick Off with Klezmer

 Charm City Klezmer performs at Creative Alliance on Dec. 29. (File Photo)

Charm City Klezmer performs at Creative Alliance on Dec. 29. (File Photo)

While Chanukah’s traditions can sometimes get lost in the chaos of the holiday season, local organizations and congregations are making sure to keep tradition front and center, starting with the music.

A number of the various area concerts will feature klezmer bands, known for playing traditional Yiddish and Jewish music derived from Eastern European folk music.

In fact, the word “klezmer” is a Yiddish compound word derived from two Hebrew words that literally mean “musical instrument.”

Rabbi Velvel Belinsky is bringing a klezmer band from New York City to town to play at Cheder Chabad on the evening of Dec. 24.

“The band [members] are Russian themselves,” he said, “and it’s cool because they are still playing traditional instruments [such as] accordion and flute. These are traditional klezmer musical instruments. The community is very excited because we have never had anything like this.”

According to Belinsky, the band will be playing songs that people might know from their grandparents, played with instruments that would have been found in a shtetl or small town.

“It will be lively during a time when everything else is closed up anyway,” he said of Christmas Eve, which shares the date with Eruv Chanukah this year. “It is the most boring night for Jews the entire year, and we want to liven that up.”

For more information, visit

>>While Chabad is bringing a traditional group of klezmer musicians from out of town, the Creative Alliance is partnering with Charm City Klezmer, “the best klezmer dance band in the area,” according to Josh Kohn, Creative Alliance’s performance director.

Led by husband-and-wife team Judith Geller and Michael Raitzyk, Charm City Klezmer boasts a “tradition of not-so-traditional klezmer music with roots in Jewish East European culture,” according to the event teaser.

“This is an annual event we do, partnering with Charm City Klezmer,” said Kohn. “They have been doing the event for as long as we have been in existence at our current location.”

Attendees can expect an upbeat and interactive concert on Dec. 29. Geller will teach traditional Yiddish dances to the audience, and as she teaches the basic moves, the band will play a song that the dance goes with.

“Originally, [klezmer] was dance music, not concert music,” explained Raitzyk. “It was played for simchas and weddings. This concert is a giant dance party; no one sits down. We teach Yiddish dances, Israeli dances.”

Raitzyk, a multi-instrumentalist who plays guitar, which is not traditional to klezmer, sees the event as a cultural celebration.

“It creates instant community,” he said. “All are welcome when we dance together as brothers and sisters in celebration. It renews our hope and spirit and keeps the culture alive.”

For more information, visit

>>An Die Musik is also hosting an annual Chanukah concert on Dec. 28 featuring the Seth Kibel Quartet, “a genre-bending klezmer band,” according to the venue’s website. Kibel was named Best World Music Instrumentalist by the Washington Area Music Association from 2003 through 2011.

Henry Wong, An Die Musik founder and owner, said that Kibel, a Baltimore native, has been performing at this annual concert for the last six years.

“People should come if they like classical music, anything like ‘Fiddler on the Roof,’” said Wong. “The music brings a lot of memory and tradition. It is wonderful music and is great for Jews and non-Jews alike.”

“I hope people will come to connect,” he continued. “You have to respect the heritage being passed on. We don’t want this culture to cease to exist. People have to understand that it is a different type of holiday situation, and this music perfectly represents it. People will leave feeling happy and looking forward to the New Year. It is good to end on a high note.”

For more information, visit

>>For those who are seeking a less traditional holiday celebration, the Gordon Center is bringing the husband and wife team of Eric Lindberg and Doni Zasloff to perform with their two bands, Jewish bluegrass outfit Nefesh Mountain and the family-friendly Mama Doni Band on Dec. 24 and 25, respectively.

“The first night of Chanukah is a bluegrass concert open to families. It is more of an adult concert, truly a fusion of bluegrass and old-time music with Jewish tradition,” said Zasloff. “Bluegrass has been a love of ours for a long time, and Nefesh Mountain is the realization of our love for both Jewish culture and bluegrass music. There are all kinds of acoustic folk music. We really love that and have adopted our Jewish beliefs to fit the world of bluegrass.”

“If you already love bluegrass, you’ll love the show,” added Lindberg. “If you don’t have any experience with it, after the show you will love bluegrass. It is really exciting to be playing this huge concert with Nefesh Mountain. We are really the authority for and the pioneers for what is really true Jewish bluegrass music.”

The Mama Doni Band’s concert will be kid friendly.

“It will have dancing and exciting songs; it’s very high energy,” said Zasloff. “There are Chanukah classics as well as our own takes on some songs. People will be up and about engaging the little ones. Chanukah is such a beautiful time to be grateful for family and friendships. Music is the best way to celebrate that sometimes.”

For more information, visit

For more information on additional events in the local area, visit

For information on events local synagogues are hosting, visit

Obama Lights the Menorah One More Time



If any word could describe the scene from the East Room of the White House on Dec. 14, the site of the final two Chanukah parties hosted by President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama, it would be irony.

Unless you paid close attention to the fact that there was a silver menorah being lit at the front of the room for the second ceremony in the evening, or the fact that some of the 550-plus guests at each ceremony were wearing kippot, the Christmas trees and lights adorning the room may have given you a different impression.

Obama appeared to be in good spirits, referring to the infamous “Thanksgivvikuh” holiday confluence of 2013, when the Obamas lit a turkey-shaped menorah, and noting that the annual White House event gives them a lot of nachas. He even managed to recast his presidency as the Chanukah story of the day’s worth of oil that lasted for eight.

“You know, at the beginning of my presidency, some critics thought it would last for only a year, but — miracle of miracles it has lasted eight years,” he said to raucous applause.

But Obama also noted the many accomplishments of American Jews, including the Jewish Supreme Court justices. He said this as recent court nominee Merrick Garland stood near the back of the room With Garland’s nomination all but dead, Obama said the Garland will “continue to serve our country with distinction as the chief judge on the D.C. circuit.”

Both ceremonies featured relatives of important Jewish figures who died this year. At the first event, Obama compared Elie Wiesel’s survival in Nazi concentration camps to the story of Chanukah and the larger concept of overcoming adversity.

“Through centuries of exile and persecution, and even the genocide of families like the Wiesels’ endured, the Chanukah candles have been kindled,” he said. “Each wick an answer to the wicked.  Each light a signal to the world that yours is an inextinguishable faith.”

During the second ceremony — Obama has run two parties in recent years due to demand; each one on Wednesday drew 550 people — he recalled former Israeli President and Prime Minister Shimon Peres.

Obama also noted the contributions Jews have made in fighting for the rights of other marginalized groups.

“It’s why Jews marched in Selma, why they mobilized after Stonewall, why synagogues have opened their doors to refugees, why Jewish leaders have spoken out against all forms of hatred,” he said.

Both ceremonies ended with Chanukah blessings — minus God’s name because the holiday won’t actually begin until Dec. 24 — and the traditional song “Ma’oz Tzur.” The first ceremony included a bit of gospel flavor with the singing of “This Little Light of Mine.”

Obama’s final menorah lighting followed one of the bitterest presidential campaigns in American history. Obama’s words Wednesday, while consoling, may not have been enough for those who attended.

“The story of this community and the work you continue to do to repair the world forever reminds us to have faith that there are brighter days ahead,” Obama said as the crowd chuckled.

“They’re a little cynical,” Michelle Obama remarked to her husband, to which he replied “No, no, no. They’re not cynical.”

Size matters: How a ‘largest menorah’ tiff landed two rabbis in Jewish court

The World's Largest Hanukkah Menorah being lighted by then-New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg with Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman, Director of the Lubavitch Youth Organization, in 2013. (PR Newswire)

The World’s Largest Hanukkah Menorah being lighted by then-New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg with Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman, Director of the Lubavitch Youth Organization, in 2013. (PR Newswire)

NEW YORK (JTA) — Each year in Brooklyn, Chabad Rabbi Shimon Hecht ascends 33 and a half feet to light the tallest menorah in the world.

But he’s not allowed to call it that anymore.

By decree of a Chabad-Lubavitch rabbinical court, Hecht must cede the title of “World’s Largest Menorah” to another candelabra, this one also erected by a Chabad rabbi, also in New York. That menorah is, in fact, is six inches shorter than Hecht’s, but because it used the “tallest” moniker first, the court said it owns the title.

“Every Hanukkah operation is meant for publicizing the miracle in a way that sanctifies God’s name and the name of Chabad, and not, God forbid, the opposite,” the judges wrote in the Dec. 1 decision. “So when another organization in the same city uses the same descriptor without permission from the plaintiff, it could cause the opposite of respect to Lubavitch.”

Each Hanukkah since 1984, Hecht’s menorah has stood at Grand Army Plaza, a public plaza at the main entrance to Prospect Park in the upscale Brooklyn neighborhood of Park Slope. Across the river in Manhattan, the other Chabad menorah, erected by Rabbi Shmuel Butman, stands on Fifth Avenue at the southeastern corner of Central Park.

The bases of both menorahs reach 32 feet, the maximum allowed by Jewish law. But Hecht’s central candle, called the shamash, pokes half a foot higher into the sky than Butman’s.

“The whole spirit of the holiday is to spread the miracle” of Hanukkah, said Rabbi Moshe Hecht, Shimon Hecht’s son. “Putting menorahs out in the public garners attention.”

Both rabbis lead institutions within the vast Chabad infrastructure. Shimon Hecht is rabbi of Chabad of Park Slope and Butman is the director of the Lubavitch Youth Organization.

In the mid-1970s, former Chabad leader Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson began encouraging his emissaries to build public menorahs to increase awareness of the holiday and to inspire Jews to light their own menorahs. More than two decades after his death, Chabad rabbis put up large menorahs every year in cities around the world — one of the most visible signs of the global Hasidic Jewish outreach movement.

Each New York menorah has staked its claim to being the world’s largest — and each has used that distinction for all the publicity it’s worth.

The Manhattan menorah, first set up about a decade before its Brooklyn rival, stands between the posh Plaza and Pierre Hotels on Fifth Avenue. Designed by Israel artist Yaacov Agam, the menorah’s candlesticks rise from a rectangular base and shoot off diagonally. A string of New York City mayors and New York State governors have ascended in an electrician’s cherry-picker to light the Fifth Avenue menorah — though former Mayor Michael Bloomberg and current Mayor Bill de Blasio have lit candles at both locations.

In 2006, the Fifth Avenue menorah scored a coup —  it got Guinness World Records to certify it as “World’s largest menorah.”

“The prominence of the menorah carries an additional message,” Butman, who wouldn’t comment to JTA, said in a 2014 press release. “The Rebbe teaches that soon there will be another light, an eternal light, the eternal light of Moshiach, the eternal light of the Great Redemption.”

But until the rabbinic ruling on Dec. 1, the Brooklyn menorah hadn’t let go of its claim to the title. Standing opposite a military memorial in the center of Grand Army Plaza, it rises from a single gold-colored stem that widens into an angled candelabra. Last year, Hecht drew 2,000 people to the first candle-lighting and expects a similar turnout this year.

To promote the menorah, Hecht runs the website and — until the court decision — advertised it on the Facebook page World’s Largest Menorah. Both the website and Facebook page feature a logo of a menorah rising from a globe.

The dispute, said Schneerson biographer Samuel Heilman, exemplifies Chabad’s dilemma since its leader’s death in 1994. Decades ago, Hecht and Butman would have appealed directly to the rebbe, whose word was final. But now, a variety of sometimes competing Chabad institutions can operate independently of one another.

“Chabad is now no longer led by a single authority, and today is really in a situation where each emissary or each territory is its own independent operator,” said Heilman, who co-wrote the biography “The Rebbe,” published in 2012.

In this case, the court became the acting authority. In the ruling, the judges ordered Hecht to change his promotional materials or surrender them to Butman, and to instead use a descriptor like “The central menorah of Brooklyn.” Moshe Hecht said he and his father are still working on a re-branding.

“We’re Jews, so we have to follow the ruling of the beis din [rabbinic court], and no further comment on that,” he told JTA. “It’s going to be the same menorah it’s been for the last 30 years.”

Synagogues Celebrate Chanukah

chanukah-1Chanukah can be a particularly hectic time of year. To help you keep your luster during 2016’s Festival of Lights, the JT presents a quick-fix primer of seasonal events and activities to look out for through local congregations.

Beth El Congregation

Beth El is partnering with Chizuk Amuno Congregation for a Chinese food and movie night at Beth El on Wednesday, Dec. 28 at 6 p.m. that includes a community candle lighting and a movie for kids and one for adults (TBD), as well as popcorn, snacks and desserts (including in price of ticket: $15 for adults, $8 for kids). Visit

Temple Oheb Shalom

“The Night of 1000 Dreidels” at Temple Oheb Shalom spins into action on Friday, Dec. 16 at 6:15 p.m. and includes an enthralling Family Erev Shabbat-style Service (featuring the congregation’s Youth Choir and Temple Band), GaGa (Israeli dodgeball), face painting, dreidel spinning competitions, inflatables and a whole lot more where that came from.

RSVP requested for dinner/activities (but not services):;

Beth Israel Congregation

On the evening of Tuesday, Dec. 20, Beth Israel Congregation presents a special Chanukah celebration that starts at 6 p.m. and includes a congregational dinner (meat meal), Brixalot Big LEGO Menorah Build, a learning experience with Rachel V. Glaser on the light of Judaism and candle making with representatives from Pearlstone.

RSVP for dinner by Thurs., Dec. 15:; RSVP required for candle lighting:; questions can be directed to Rabbi Rachel Blatt: 410.654.0803 or;

Beth Tfiloh Congregation

Beth Tfiloh’s “Almost Chanukah Family Bingo” rolls up on Tuesday, Dec. 20 at 5:30 p.m. in the Beth Tfiloh Congregation Auditorium.

The bingo is for the entire family and will include latkes as well as pizza (by pre-order and for an additional fee). Beth Tfiloh asks that everyone please “bring in brand new, unwrapped and unopened toys to be donated to children at Hackerman Patz House.”

Register and order pizza online at by Thursday, Dec. 15 at 9 a.m.

For more information on additional events in the local area, visit

For information on musical Chanukah events in the local area, visit

Spin a Gimel with These Great Gifts for Kids

Hanukkah Dreidel and GeltNothing’s more memorable than a bad gift.

Themed holiday socks, a singing wall-mounted bass or basically anything you’ve ever seen on an infomercial at 3 a.m. can round out that list pretty well.

And when it comes to what to get your young children, grandchildren, nieces, nephews and the like, you certainly don’t want to disappoint and make for a rather lackluster holiday.

But finding the perfect Chanukah gift for kids doesn’t mean mega toy monster trucks or Tickle Me Elmos (remember those?).

A truly meaningful gift combines the spirit of the holiday, a little bit of pizzazz and a dash of educational value (sorry kids, but your parents will agree with me on this one).

deforma-building-blocks-1-photo-from-amazon-comMaking the Menorah

For the Lego generation — and those passing it on to their kids — Deforma Building Blocks (ages 6 and up) are a fun way to allow kids to create their own menorah.

Shaping the menorah is educational too, helping kids to practice problem-solving techniques and motor-development skills. Plus, who doesn’t love building blocks?

The set is just over $20 and can be bought on

Holiday Sweaters

It’s always nice to show up to a holiday party with a little swag, and nothing is cuter on kids than ironic Chanukah sweaters (right?). is the best place to go for just the thing, whether they’re “You Spin Me Right Round” onesies with cartoon dreidels or your run-of-the-mill ugly sweaters that say “Happy Hanukkah.”

Some people on the site even custom make “My 1st Hanukkah” bibs and baby shower gifts.

Some other personal favorite graphic tees: “Little Latke Lover,” “Jewish Christmas” featuring a Chinese takeout box or “Jew Chainz” with long gold necklaces printed on the shirt with a Jewish star and chai pendant.

hanukkah-nail-decals-midrashmanicures-com-bBody Art

Now don’t get carried away, we’re not talking about tattoos and the like (your bubbie would have a conniption). But for those approaching bar and bat mitzvah age — those delightful preteen years — temporary metallic flash tattoos will make their friends envious.

Temporary flash tattoos have been all the rage in the past year — even for adults — and Modern Tribe creates Jewish ones like a hamsa, latkes, dreidels, menorahs and so on. They can be purchased at for $12.95.

On top of that, nail art is super popular, and that means — you guessed it — people are painting latkes on their fingernails.

But for those a little less artistically inclined, you can buy nail art stickers with images like Judah Maccabee, gelt or Chanukah candles.

Chanukah season is officially on its way — and on your fingertips.

Hanukkah Nail Decals are $11.99 at

Sweet Tooth

Kids don’t want just any chocolate. They want cool chocolate — er, right?

The popular Dylan’s Candy Bar in New York City (and several other locations across the country) has decadent sweets for the holiday, ranging from your typical gelt and chocolates to decorative-themed Chanukah cookies.

You also can’t go wrong with Mensch Mints or the Mensch Hanukkah Cookie, featuring that signature Jewish beard. Or really just chocolate works, am I right?

Check out to order.

mad-libsJoke Books

For kids, really nothing is funnier than replacing average text with the word “boogers.” And with “Hanukkah Mad Libs,” that laughter never has to end.

The notorious fill-in- the-blank stories have 21 options to rewrite the lighting of the menorah and the spinning of the dreidel — more than enough to occupy eight nights of Chanukah.

You can purchase the book on

Games and Cuddly Thingskosherland-board-game-bed-bath-and-beyond

To get kids off their phones and video games to enjoy a little more family time, try a simple board game. But not just any board game: Kosherland.

Kosherland — yes, the “O” in Kosherland is a bagel — is a beginner’s game for Jewish kids, following Jewish themes, culture and tradition. You can buy it for $12.99 at Bed Bath & Beyond.

While you’re in that same aisle, pick up a copy of the Jewish Old Maid Card Game too.

If your child prefers stuffed toys to board games, Bed Bath & Beyond also sells the Dancing Hanukkah Puppy for $19.99 — “a plush dachshund dressed in a blue winter scarf and knit cap, carrying a Hanukkah menorah on his back” that plays music and dances — or the $29.99 Hanukkah Bear with 20 mini-lights, a bowtie and kippah.

You can’t go wrong with any of these options for the Festival of Lights.

Rachel Kurland is a reporter at the Jewish Exponent in Philadelphia, an affiliated publication of the Baltimore Jewish Times.

Great Buys for the Jewish Music Lover in Your Life

cohenLeonard Cohen, “You Want It Darker”

Canadian Jewish singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen — best known for his songs “Suzanne,” “Bird on a Wire” and “Hallelujah” — has just released his 14th studio album. Cohen, who died in November at age 82, and his vocal style has changed as he’s aged, but it’s still a powerful instrument.

Unlike so many cringeworthy late-career entries from legendary performers (Sinatra and Elvis come to mind), Cohen’s new album is a stunner, full of rich, exquisite orchestration and haunting melodies.

In a recent New Yorker profile, Cohen professed himself ready to die, and indeed the songs on this new album delve into mortality and endings, sometimes from a very Jewish perspective. Yet, the album, despite its title, isn’t dark. Rather, it feels filled with hope and love and longing. It would make for a knockout gift.

dylanSpecial Edition “No Direction Home: Bob Dylan” 10th Anniversary Deluxe Box Set

If Leonard Cohen has an American analog, it’s probably Bob Dylan, though he once told Cohen that he considered himself a better writer than Cohen. The 2016 Nobel Prize committee apparently agreed, bestowing its prize for literature on Dylan — the first musician to receive such an honor.

Now, to celebrate the 10th-anniversary release of “No Direction Home,” Martin Scorsese’s critically praised documentary about Dylan, a box set is available for purchase for Dylan completists.

The box set includes two-disc Blu-Ray edition and two-disc DVD edition in a deluxe portfolio; three 8×10 lithographic photo prints; and a special edition Bob Dylan magazine featuring historical articles and photos. The Blu-Ray and DVD have an additional two-plus hours of never-before-seen footage, including classic Dylan performances and an unused promotional spot.

For those who don’t necessarily want all the mishegas — they just want to see the movie — it’s now available for viewing on iTunes for the first time. Either way, it’ll help explain that Nobel choice.

drakeDrake, “More Life”

Here’s one for the young R&B and hip-hop fan in your life — a new project by Drake, the Canadian Jewish (on his mom’s side) heartthrob responsible for such earworms as “Hotline Bling.” The 30-year-old, who’s dating Pennsylvania native Taylor Swift (shikse alert!), last released a full-length album, “Views,” in 2015.

His new project is reported to be a “playlist project” — at least that’s what Drake is calling it right now — with all original music, though details are scant and the release date is simply “sometime in December.”

So far, three songs from “More Life” have been made available on iTunes, with more to come, so the best gift in this case might be a late-December iTunes gift card.

beautifulphoto-joan-marcus“Beautiful: The Carole King Musical”

“So Far Away.” “You’ve Got a Friend.” “(You Make Me Feel) Like a Natural Woman.” “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling.” “I Feel the Earth Move.” “Up on the Roof.” It’s hard to list all of the blockbuster hits that singer-songwriter Carole King — born Carol Klein — wrote over the years, both for herself and for other groups.

The Broadway musical “Beautiful” chronicles King’s journey as the nice Jewish girl who comes to New York at 16 to the mature woman who’s transformed American music with her songs.

The “Beautiful” soundtrack won last year’s Grammy for Best Musical Theater Album, and the show was nominated for seven Tony Awards. King herself has said the show is “effing awesome.” Treat the Brill Building fan in your life to a day trip to New York and two tickets to the show. $99 orchestra seats are available for select performances.

streisand“Barbra Streisand: Redefining Beauty, Femininity, and Power”

Speaking of Jewish songstresses, there’s no one who quite compares to Barbra Streisand — singer, writer, actor, director and activist.

The longtime Democrat, who’s married to actor James Brolin, recently told Australia’s “60 Minutes” she would emigrate to that country or Canada if Trump won the presidency. Such statements tend to engender either rage or admiration among Streisand watchers, but there’s no question that the “Yentl” director is a fascinating personality.

Though she doesn’t have a new album out, a recent biography by Neil Gabler (author of “An Empire of Their Own: How the Jews Invented Hollywood”) examines Streisand’s life through the prism of her Jewishness.

“No one is better equipped to ponder the Jewish origins of Streisand than Gabler,” said Jewish Journal’s Jonathan Kirsch of the trim bio, which was published by Yale University Press.

Liz Spikol is a reporter at the Jewish Exponent in Philadelphia, an affiliated publication of the Baltimore Jewish Times.

Sukkot Around Town

The JT stopped by community events as well as one family’s sukkah during the course of the holiday. Here’s how some in Baltimore  celebrated Sukkot.

Charm City Tribe’s mobile sukkah draws a crowd at Union Craft Brewing.

Charm City Tribe’s mobile sukkah draws a crowd at Union Craft Brewing.

Sukkot and Beer

Charm City Tribe’s mobile sukkah stopped by Union Craft Brewing on the evening of Thursday, Oct. 20. Visitors crowded around the sukkah that had been on tour around the Baltimore area throughout Sukkot, jutting out from the bed of a pickup truck.

“Union has been an integral part of all of this,” said Charm City Tribe director Rabbi Jessy Gross, noting that the seasonal etrog beer on tap was, like the mobile sukkah itself, a means of “creating an  experience on a cultural level” that would allow for a more accessible connection to Judaism for the otherwise uninitiated.

Gross told the JT that reaching out to the community with the mobile sukkah and specialty beer is “important because only 11 percent of people not Orthodox between ages 18 and 34 say it’s important to belong to a Jewish institution, and so that leaves 89 percent of people left to connect with.”

Referring to her unique methods as “low barrier, high content,” Gross hopes folks will come for “the party” and stay for “the content.” They’ll end up asking questions — “What is etrog? What is a sukkah, anyway?” — that will turn a curious young person into someone who is suddenly learning more about and gaining more access to Judaism.

As a close friend of Gross, Union  co-owner Adam Benesch said it was an “obvious” choice to support what she was doing by having a larger event at which the mobile sukkah could rest for a family-friendly evening in the brewery’s parking lot, where children played games, face painting was prominent and where the Green Bowl Food Truck was present for purchase of healthy fast-casual food along with a reading of “Hophead Harry Goes to the Brewery,” which — believe it or not — is a children’s book about making beer.

“We had an opportunity here to reach out to the community,” Benesch said. “It’s a mobile sukkah. So, I mean … come on.”

— Mathew Klickstein


Wendy Hefter shows off her family’s collection of etrogim.

Wendy Hefter shows off her family’s collection of etrogim.

A Multigenerational Sukkah

While Sukkot gives families an opportunity each year to celebrate the season outdoors, the Hefter family has taken tradition one step further, passing on panels and decorations in their sukkah from generation to generation.

The family’s temporary holiday hut originated more than 40 years ago with Ruth and Sy Hefter. It has since lived in three states, survived two major hurricanes and now resides in Baltimore.

Wendy Hefter and her family integrated her husband David’s parent’s sukkah into their own when they decided to stop putting it up following a significant flood in 2012. All of the current Hefter sukkah’s white panels were from the original, while the blue panels were added to the sukkah three years ago so that it would fit the new frame.

“Every year we add something new,” said Wendy. “This year, we actually harvested our own bamboo for the roof.”  Additionally, new paintings are added to the panels yearly.

Painting the panels of the sukkah is another family tradition. Sy originally painted some of the panels. Another of David Hefter’s siblings, Jodie Shoshana, who lives on a kibbutz, paints on her panels each year. Now, Amy Hefter is continuing the tradition.

Last year was her first painting — she painted the minions from the movie “Despicable Me” on a panel because her  father loves them. This year, she decided to illustrate a panel with ushpizin in the same styling that her grandfather used for the letters on the door of the sukkah.

Wendy explained, “Every night in the sukkah, you’re supposed to invite a guest in, one for each of the fathers: Avraham, Yitzchak, Yaakov, Moshe, Aaron, Yosef and David.

“I wanted [the panel] to make sense for the holiday and for the theme. I hope that painting on the canvas means that it will be around for a long time. In the future, I intend on having a sukkah I can paint and decorate with my kids. It is wonderful that we took the sukkah that had been in my grandparents family for nearly generations and gave it a new home, where they can still spend time in it.”

Other décor have been passed down through the family as well. Wendy pointed out a poster in the corner: “That’s from 1973 — during the Yom Kippur war; that was the  famous poster that came out and my parents passed it on to me.”

Even more interesting is the family collection of etrogim. “It is the only fruit that doesn’t spoil when it gets old,” Wendy said. “It never rots. My husband and I have been collecting  etrogim for nearly 31 years. They don’t spoil; they just shrink and get harder. My  father-in-law used to put holes in them with a nail and would put cloves in there. As it shrinks, they get in there and you can use it for bisamim when you have Havdalah.”

— Daniel Nozick

Volunteers pack soup kits as their way of giving back.

Volunteers pack soup kits as their way of giving back.

Sukkot with a Purpose

A number of Jewish community members and officials assembled in the Rosenbloom Owings Mills JCC’s sukkah on Oct. 20 as part of Jewish Volunteer Connection’s “High Holidays with a Purpose” initiative.

The participants were there to make a “Soupkot” kit to  donate to low-income families and families transitioning out of homeless shelters in an effort to ensure for them a hot and healthy meal this holiday season.

Abigail Malis, senior associate of community partnerships at the JVC, said the organization saw Sukkot as an opportune time to further its mission of giving back to those less fortunate in underserved communities.

“Well, think about how we operated back in biblical times and ancient times when all of our ancestors were farmers. They had to support each other and were responsible for supporting other members of the Jewish people,” Malis said.

Rabbi Jessy Gross, senior “director of Jewish Learning and Life at the JCC, partnered with the JVC to turn the idea into a reality and raise people’s consciousness of why Jews  celebrate Sukkot.

“I thought this would be a good thing that would bring people into the sukkah and would also be thematically  attune with what we think about during Sukkot,” said Gross, founding director of Charm City Tribe.

The curiosity and buzz generated during the hour that dozens of people made their way around the sukkah was evident from the organizers.

Alexandra Ade, community outreach and volunteer associate at the JVC, said the response she received from the event, which helped benefit Living Classrooms and other JVC shelter programs, was greater than she imagined.

“What we’re doing, it seems pretty simple,” Ade said. “And we have noticed many of the people say, ‘Oh, it is simple and fun.’ I think people feel genuinely good about doing these projects.”

The soup kit, designed to serve up to four people, contained lentils, yellow and green split pears, barley, chili powder, ground cumin, garlic and onion power and one bouillon cube. A 12- to 14-ounce can of diced tomatoes, five cups of water in a pot and one-and-a-half to two hours of cooking time — depending on a  person’s desired consistency — were the only required steps to completion.

— Justin Silberman