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More than 100 people gathered Tuesday in downtown Baltimore’s McKeldin Square to light a 30-foot-high menorah and mark the first night of Hanukkah, the Jewish holiday that celebrates perseverance, faith and the power of light over darkness.
“War, might, force, is a power,” said Rabbi Shmuel Kaplan, the regional director of Chabad Lubavitch of Maryland. “But light, the mind, ideas are far more powerful.”
Now in its eighth year, the Baltimore Chanukah Festival drew families from around the region for games, cookie decorating and music before the annual lighting.
Mayor Catherine Pugh, Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby, Police Commissioner Kevin Davis, City Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young and Councilman Isaac “Yitzy” Schleifer all attended the event, which is sponsored by by Chabad Lubavitch Center of Greater Baltimore and the city.
“Events like these, especially in such a public place, really attract people from all over to celebrate,” Schleifer said, “which is what the holiday season is all about.”
The eight-day festival of Hanukkah commemorates the Jews’ victory over Greek rule more than 2,000 years ago. After driving out the powerful military, the Jews were able to rekindle the menorah in the Jerusalem Temple. One day’s worth of oil burned for eight nights.
The ancient story has a modern message, especially for those weary of a seemingly endless stream of violence, corruption and crime, said Rabbi Velvel Belinsky, who helped organize the event.
Mendy Shapiro of Pikesville said he brings his children to the downtown event every year.
“Sometimes it’s very cold, but the light of the menorah warms it up,” Shapiro said.
His children — Lipa, 6, and Levi, 4 — were bundled in thick hooded coats to protect against the wind that whipped through the square. Still, they managed to grasp markers to color pictures of a menorah.
Mendel Winner, a 20-year-old yeshiva student studying in Baltimore, came as Judah the Maccabee, who led the Jews against their oppressors. Dressed in white and carrying a gold-colored shield and sword, Winner posed for photos with children. The holiday and his costume are about celebrating Jewish pride, he said.
Once it was dark, Pugh and Kaplan rode scissor lifts to the top of the menorah at the corner of Pratt and Light streets to light the first and center candles.
Kaplan encouraged the families who gathered around to bring their own light, by being kind and helping others.
“Every little act of goodness, of kindness, of charity we do is another candle lit in the world of darkness,” Kaplan said. “Ultimately, we are assured that all those little activities we do to bring holiness into the world will bring the world out of its darkness.”