Hanukkah menorah lightings planned in Bel Air, Havre de Grace

This year is bringing not just one but two public menorah lightings, in celebration of the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah, to Harford County.

Temple Adas Shalom in Havre de Grace decided to hold its own menorah lighting at 6 p.m. on Dec. 15, the last night of the holiday, for the first time in its 57-year history.

It joins Chabad of Harford County in Bel Air, which hosted the county's second public Hanukkah Celebration and Outdoor Lighting last year at Shamrock Park. This year's lighting will take place on the first night of the holiday, at 4:30 p.m. Sunday at the Bel Air Reckord Armory.

Both events are open to the public.

Hanukkah runs for eight days and commemorates the re-dedication of the Temple in Jerusalem after it was destroyed.

Rabbi Gila Ruskin, of Adas Shalom, said the synagogue was "definitely" encouraged by the lighting last year to hold its own event.

She said members of both Adas Shalom and Chabad will attend both events, and Chabad's Rabbi Kushi Schusterman plans to come to Havre de Grace as well.

"We wanted to have our own menorah because we are a synagogue, and synagogues, I think, should have their own menorah," Ruskin said, adding that it also makes sense to do something on the east side of the county, not just in Bel Air.

Adas Shalom's wooden menorah was built by a congregant, Benson Sacks of Churchville, and his father, Eddie, as part of Benson's project for his Bar Mitzvah, she said.

It will be lit every night of the holiday and will be displayed outside the temple, but the public celebration will be on the last night.

"Hopefully we will have a very good turnout, and we are excited about it," she said. "Hopefully it will be lit for many years to come."

Although the congregation is very excited for the event, Ruskin noted it marks a shift in attitude for some people.

"Some of the old-timers in the congregation said there was a time when they were trying to keep their identity not secret but very low-profile, because there just weren't a lot of Jews in Harford County," she said. "I think it's a real step for them to feel comfortable having a public menorah like other synagogues do."

She said Havre de Grace Mayor Wayne Dougherty is being invited to the event and she hopes former mayor Gunther Hirsch, who is Jewish, can come to light the menorah.

The lighting will take place in Frederick Ward Park alongside the armory, Rabbi Kushi Schusterman, of Chabad of Harford County, said. After then initial lighting, the menorah will remain lit in front of town hall for the entire month of December, right near the Christmas tree.

The menorah lighting is moving this year from Shamrock Park to the armory. Schusterman explained the reason for the switch.

"The public celebration is going to be inside the armory as past participants have said that the hot latke (holiday potato pancake) gets cold quite quickly in this weather," Schusterman wrote in his announcement of the ceremony.

"People from all faiths are interested in knowing more about the holiday," Schusterman said, "and we are here to create an environment where they can learn. Many interfaith couples have said that this annual celebration is what connects them to the faith and traditions of the Jewish spouse."

Chabad opened its doors in the winter of 2010 under the auspices of Chabad–Lubavitch of Maryland and provides all types of services to Jews and non-Jews looking for spirituality and traditions, according to Schusterman, who moved with his family to Bel Air from Brooklyn, N.Y.

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