On a mild December evening, a crowd of children and adults gathered around a giant blue and white painted electric menorah in Havre de Grace to celebrate the final night of Hanukkah.
Synagogue members and their friends traveled from all over Harford County and from as far away as Pennsylvania and Delaware to the Temple of Adas Shalom on Wednesday night to observe the Jewish holiday.
"We're here to purge the darkness with our light," Rabbi Gila Ruskin, of Adas Shalom, said to the crowd of nearly 100 people of all ages.
Hanukkah, an eight-day holiday, commemorates the rededication of the Temple of Jerusalem after it was destroyed.
"This is a holiday of religious freedom from oppression," Ruskin said. "We remember a time when we were not allowed to practice our religion."
One by one, Ruskin called upon public officials and synagogue members to light a branch on the menorah, which was hand-crafted by a young synagogue member as his community service project for his bar mitzvah.
Former Havre de Grace Mayor Gunther Hirsch, Harford County Executive David R. Craig, Maryland State Sen. Barry Glassman, County Councilwoman Mary Ann Lisanti and Kathy Kasey, of SARC, were all invited to light a branch during the ceremony.
The group sang the Hanukkah blessing and hymn and then ended with a crowd favorite "I Have A Little Dreidel."
The group went inside to enjoy a spread of food, play Hanukkah trivia and participate in a 50-50 raffle.
Charna Kinneberg, president of the synagogue, said the temple's kitchen had been open since 2 p.m. to prepare for the 6 o'clock celebration. She helped prepare more than 80 pounds of potatoes for the latkes, a quasi-potato pancake.
"We have tons of food; lots of oily food go in line with our celebration," Kinneberg said.
One synagogue member, David Jaffe, 53, who was waiting for a plate, said while Hanukkah is not a major Jewish holiday, it is a great family holiday. Jaffe has belonged to the synagogue for more than 20 years.
"It's a wonderful time to celebrate our faith alongside all of our neighbors and celebrate different cultural experiences with our neighbors," Jaffe said, while holding his rescue dog, Rio.
Jaffe's son, Eli, 17, a student at the Science and Mathematics Academy at Aberdeen High School and a fourth-grade teacher assistant at the synagogue, said Adas Shalom highlights community-based experiences when teaching younger members about their faith.