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At this time 12 years ago, Allison Weil was studying abroad in Israel. While she was away from home, to keep with the tradition of lighting candles to celebrate Hanukkah, she bought a traveling menorah.

“As long as you’ve lit them, it doesn’t really matter where you’ve lit them,” she said.

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On Sunday night, the Laurel resident was one of about 100 Howard County residents who gathered in the George Howard Building to attend the community candle lighting to celebrate the start of Hanukkah.

Hanukkah, an eight-day Jewish holiday that is often referred to as the Festival or Lights, is being celebrated this year from Dec. 22 to 30.

“[Hanukkah is] really bringing light to darkness, wherever we find it. That’s the real meaning of Hanukkah and perhaps we’re more sensitive to it at the darkest time of year, with the winter solstice, and why most all religions have some sort of theme of lights around this time of year,” said Rabbi Gordon Fuller, president of the Howard County Board of Rabbis.

The event, hosted by the Jewish Federation, Howard County Executive Calvin Ball and the Howard County Board of Rabbis, offered traditional Jewish prayers, music and food from the local community, including latkes, which are potato pancakes.

“In Howard County, we shouldn’t just tolerate diversity and inclusion, we should be celebrating it,” Ball said during his remarks. “It is important that we celebrate the things that make us unique because that is what makes us stronger and helps this beautiful tapestry of humanity that we share with the rest of the world.”

Ball’s remarks were followed by the lighting of two menorahs. Rabbi Kim Blumenthal, of Congregation Bet Chaverim in Ellicott City, recited the three traditional Hanukkah prayers while young children in attendance lit both menorahs.

Following the candle lighting, Rabbi Linda Joseph, of Congregation Bet Aviv in Columbia, explained the traditions of the holiday, while advocating for the introduction of more light into the world.

“It’s too easy to get dragged into the darkness around us and forget our actions, our intentions [and] our motivations can create light,” Joseph said. “It is a universality of the level of our individual and communal ability to increase light and goodness in this world that resonates most as we, as a Jewish community, stand here in the county building. One candle in this office tonight commences our universal intention toward the increasing light on us.”

That light is Lori Kassoff’s favorite part of the holiday. The Columbia resident has an electric menorah for the window and others she lights in her dining room.

“I kind of like seeing the lights in the house. It’s special,” Kassoff said “[Tonight is] another way to celebrate and be proud of being a Jew and celebrating having a Jewish community in the area.”

The night concluded with a number of traditional Jewish songs, sung by Rabbi Daniel Plotkin, of Temple Isaiah in Fulton, in English and Yiddish.

Weil’s daughters were dancing along as Plotkin played his guitar. One shouted, “Mommy, I know this song!”

For Weil, a program associate with the Jewish Federation, the candle lighting was a good opportunity for her two young daughters to see the community come together for the first night of Hanukkah.

At the Weil house later that night, the family lit several menorahs, including one with each child’s name on it.

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“I really like the idea of having a ritual that we do every night, like that we have something where we come together as a family each night. We say the same blessings, we light the candles; it’s a nice glow,” Weil said.

The family will be on the road for part of Hanukkah this year, but regardless they’ll stop to light a candle. Weil said she might pack her traveling menorah from college.

“Wherever you are, you can light candles,” she said.

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