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Hanukkah celebrants gather for downtown Baltimore menorah lighting

After mounting menorahs atop minivans and gathering in Park Heights, members of Baltimore's Jewish community paraded in a caravan south to the Inner Harbor, where they ate latkes and jelly doughnuts, danced and listened to traditional music before lighting the city's 30-foot-tall menorah in McKeldin Park.

Under a misty rain Sunday evening, another Hanukkah season was marked downtown, with celebrants of the festival of lights proudly announcing their faith on Light Street.

"Hanukkah has a special message, not only for people of the Jewish community but also for the larger community," said Rabbi Shmuel Kaplan, director of Chabad Lubavitch in Maryland, which helped organize the event. "It recognizes the victory of religious freedom as well as the importance of living with our values."

In the Jewish tradition, the eight nights of Hanukkah — which began Saturday night — celebrate the triumph of the Maccabees over the Greeks and the story of priests rekindling the temple light using a small amount of pure oil that, despite all odds, burned for eight days until more could be produced, community members said.

The Chabad Lubavitch movement asks its members to honor the tradition through public events such as the one downtown where the celebration has taken place for the past three years. This year marks its second with the large menorah.

"What I like about this event is it brings people together from all different neighborhoods in Baltimore," said Rabbi Levi Druk, of Chabat Lubavitch of Downtown Baltimore.

"It can't squash Hanukkah," said Sharon Caplan, of Federal Hill, of the wet weather. "There are still potato latkes, there are still candles. It's still all good."

Children with their faces painted watched acrobat Dextre Tripp perform as the Maryland Defense Force Band played holiday tunes on a stage where a handful of city officials, including Councilwoman Rochelle "Rikki" Spector, also sat.

Rafi Goff and friend Don Brody, both of Chabad of Park Heights, dressed in dreidel costumes, encouraged kids to spin them in circles "to spread the holiday joy," Groff said.

Rivky Bukiet, there with her husband and five young sons, said the event has become a family tradition.

"Snow, rain or shine, they wouldn't let me miss it," Bukiet said of her boys, all between the ages of 8 and 1. "It's their favorite holiday."

Bukiet said she remembers a similar tradition of parading through Buffalo, N.Y., in her family's car as a child, "so proud to drive around with the menorah on top, reminding everyone it's Hanukkah."

About 5 p.m., Rabbi Kaplan went up high above the crowd in a bucket truck with Howard Silverman, 13, of Pikesville, to light the menorah at its center and atop its two left-most branches. The rain made the lighting difficult, but the pair made it work, and the flames licked back at the moist air to cheers from below.

Silverman — whose grandfather Howard Brown, chairman of David S. Brown Enterprises, donated the 30-foot menorah in memory of his daughter Esther Ann Adler, who died three years ago — said the experience was "awesome."

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Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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