A cold December night was no match for the glow from the menorah outside Temple Adas Shalom in Havre de Grace, where a crowd gathered to celebrate the eighth and final night of Hanukkah on Saturday.
The synagogue's first public menorah-lighting event brought out about 70 people to its front lawn, where a large wooden blue-and-white menorah stood in honor of the Jewish holiday.
It's also the second such event in Harford County, after Chabad of Harford County began having one in Bel Air two years ago.
Adas Shalom Rabbi Gila Ruskin told the story of a debate between Hillel and Shammai, two rabbis in the Talmud, about which direction the candles should be lit. Hillel said they should be lit in increasing order because we should be increasing holiness.
"We should always be trying to increase holiness and increase light," she said.
County Executive David Craig lit the "shamash," or helper candle, while other dignitaries – Havre de Grace Mayor Wayne Dougherty, Sen. Barry Glassman and Harford County Councilwoman Mary Ann Lisanti – were called on to help kindle the other eight "candles" (actually electric bulbs).
Craig said the event reminded him of what "we all share through Abraham, Isaac and Jacob."
The crowd then chanted the blessings over the Hanukkah candles and sang songs like "Maoz Tsur (Rock of Ages)," "The Dreidel Song" and "Sivivon Sov Sov Sov (Dreidel, Spin, Spin Spin)" while cars raced past on Level Road.
People like Mark Wolkow, a temple member and former Harford school board president, joined other attendees in calling the event "fantastic" and "beautiful."
"I think it's great for the temple and I think it's great for the community at large to see the presence of the temple community," Wolkow said inside the much warmer social hall, where the crowd convened for food, a potato latke-eating contest and a "havdalah" ceremony, which marks the end of the Sabbath.
"It's nice to be a little better known, not always the best-kept secret," he said, noting the congregation has been growing in recent years for a number of reasons. "It's been more the community-building that has been going on."
Penny Sacks, of Churchville, was excited for the event after her son, Benson, spent several weeks working on the menorah as part of his Bar Mitzvah project, along with his father, Eddie.
"My son and he both find it to be a great honor, in this neighborhood," she said.
Amanda Evans and Jessica Blevins, of Havre de Grace, brought 2-year-old Addison Evans to experience the ceremony.
"We teach our kids about all different religions," Blevins explained. "I thought he would really like to come see it."
Melissa Brown, another temple member from Port Deposit, said it was exciting and a good way to bring out teenagers who might otherwise not have come.
"It was just something that I knew that I wanted to be a part of because it's exciting," she said. "I just appreciate my community and I just thought it would be fun and festive. It's a great way to bring the community together."