Chanukah Happiness

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What is your favorite Chanukah memory? Does it involve bubbie’s hot, crispy latkes? Lighting the family menorah? A first Chanukah with your first child? Enjoying those Chanukah gifts? Or simply spending much- cherished time with family and friends? The JT asked five women and men in the Jewish community what Chanukah stories or anecdotes come to mind when the winter Festival of Lights rolls around.


The owner of Gourmet Again in Pikesville is busy at the upscale food shop and deli he has owned for four years, with the seasonal rush of people preparing for the holiday by stocking up on traditional Chanukah eats and treats.

Photo provided.

As a longtime Pikesville resident, family man and father of two, Hoffman, 34, has worked at the store since he was 14. He had no problem coming up with his favorite holiday memory.

“My most memorable Chanukah would definitely be when I was able to light the menorah for the first time with my wife, Melisa, and our two boys, Mason and Liam. Chanukah has always been about family, as all of the Jewish holidays are to me, and it was a very special time to be able to light that first night’s candle with an almost 3-year-old and holding our sweet newborn.

“Chanukah is now hosted at our house for our family that continues to grow; it really has become a special time of year for us. My kids are now making requests for presents and are learning about the real Chanukah meaning of dedication.

“Celebrating Chanukah as a complete family with grandparents, cousins, aunts and uncles around is what makes this such a special time.”


Josie Shaffer (Photo provided)

The Pikesville High School senior lives in Annen Woods. She is this year’s student member of the Baltimore County Board of Education. The bubbly and outgoing Shaffer, who just turned 18 last week, had an internship on Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign and worked in state Del. Shelley Hettleman’s Annapolis office. She is a founding member of a local chapter of BBYO, a national leadership development organization for Jewish teens. Looking forward to college, Shaffer plans to major in political communications. She told the JT she remembers, with great delight, her first menorah.

“When I was younger, my parents let us light the candles with the menorah I made in preschool at Learning Ladder. The menorah was made out of wood, and it was covered in plastic rhinestones. It was so cool to watch the candles burn in something that I made. We used to have so many boxes of Chanukah candles in the back of the pantry, and my mom would bring them out a few hours before. My favorite part was when my sister, Jaylin, and I got to pick the candles, and I spent way longer than needed to pick out all the different colors!”


Lara Nicolson and her family light their menorah. (Photo provided)

A native South African, Nicolson moved to Baltimore 12 years ago with her husband. The couple now lives in Reisterstown with their two children. Nicolson, 42, is the JCC of Greater Baltimore’s Center for Jewish Life program director, where she welcomes newcomers to the area and works with interfaith education programs. She herself has an interfaith marriage — her husband is Episcopal, and they are raising their children in the Jewish faith. She was excited to share three memorable stories of her family chanukiahs.

“My favorite Chanukah memories relate to buying my own two family chanukiahs and making our third one together. As a child in South Africa, we had one gold antique chanukiah in our family, I have photos of us lighting it as children, and my mom still has it at her home. When I got married, we asked for a chanukiah for a wedding gift but didn’t receive one, so for our first several years as a traveling married couple, we didn’t light one.

“The first chanukiah that I bought was when my daughter was born. She was only a few months old, and despite being very tired parents and only having lived in the U.S. for a few months, we still wanted to celebrate together as a family of three. I found this very cute ceramic chanukiah online. It had little children as each candle holder in brightly painted colors, and we lit it every night with her. In the first year of parenthood, as an interfaith family, we were still figuring out how we were going to celebrate the winter holidays. Since then, we have celebrated Chanukah together with our friends, extended family and now our congregation using that special chanukiah with my daughter and son, who are now old enough to light it themselves.

“The second chanukiah, I bought at a craft marketplace in Israel when I went on a womens’ mission. I went back and forth about buying it, as it was a splurge, but I wanted to have a special piece of Judaica from that trip that was a memento of my experience and independence. It is a very modern and decorative chanukiah that matched my home decoration and personal style. I enjoy lighting it as a symbol of my own personal connection to Israel and Chanukah.

“The third chanukiah is one that we made together at a pottery painting studio two years ago. Actually, it was my husband who painted it, as he has the artistic talent. But it is even more special as he is the supportive non-Jewish spouse who encourages us to celebrate Chanukah parties in our home by helping with the decorating, hosting and frying the best latkes in town. We took this chanukiah to the synagogue Chanukah party that year and lit it with my mother, who was visiting us for the holiday, so it felt like our family had come full circle. We really love hosting Chanukah parties or taking our chanukiahs on the road, even to our friends’ Christmas party last year, to share our holiday tradition with them.”


Rabbi Kushi Schusterman (Photo provided)

The 33-year-old has been the spiritual leader of the Harford County Chabad in Bel Air for seven years. He and his wife, Malka, and their five children live there. The Chabad community hosts several Chanukah events, including a Chanukah Family Dinner and Chanukah at Shamrock Park, where Schusterman joins the congregation in lighting a huge menorah. The rabbi delighted in sharing his Chanukah memory about the first Chanukah at his new home, the Harford Chabad.

“We moved to Bel Air in September of 2010. We then had a little office on Main Street that we rented, and we put out a menorah, right out front on Main Street in Bel Air. And as we were putting it up, a woman came by and she stopped us and said, ‘That’s just nice. That’s just amazing.’ And she’s lived in Harford County for many, many, many years.

“She was just so appreciative. And she’s not someone who is personally involved with Chabad and is still not necessarily involved. But every time I do see her, she always reminds me and says, ‘You know, that menorah on Main Street is just beautiful.’

“This will be our eighth Chanukah in Bel Air. It’s been a fun experience, thank God.”


Jake Max (Photo provided)

As program director for Charm City Tribe, Max was busy this week with the organization’s signature Chanukah celebration, Chanukah Brew HaHa, held Dec. 13 at Union Craft Brewing. The 23-year-old enjoys his job, finding appealing ways to engage young people with their Judaism. Max, 23, remembers his first Chanukah and how that family tradition that brings everyone together is still meaningful in his life.

“It was the winter of 2000. I was 6 years old. I don’t have many memories from that period of my life, but this one still feels like yesterday. I want to say I remember eating my aunt’s famous apple sauce on top of freshly sizzled potato latkes. I wish I could say I remember playing dreidel with my cousins while Grandpa told old stories from his time in the Coast Guard up in Maine. The truth is, I can’t. I don’t remember any of the things that have since become sacred Chanukah traditions for me.

“2000 was a simpler time. As a first-grader, all I knew about Chanukah at the time was that I always got presents, so I was extremely excited to go to my family’s annual Chanukah party. The year 2000 also happened to be the year ‘Pokemon Gold’ and ‘Pokemon Silver’ versions were released. Naturally, when the hour arrived, my cousin and I opened our gifts greedily and quickly realized that our dreams had come true. He got ‘Silver’ and I got ‘Gold.’

“That night, my parents let me stay over at my aunt’s house well after the rest of the family had said their goodbyes and departed. We sat there on our Gameboy Colors and played for what seemed like an eternity. I now realize it couldn’t have been more than an hour or two, which was still way past my bedtime, but that night was magical.

“We don’t even give gifts anymore at Chanukah, but that’s not what matters. What makes Chanukah special are those nights spent with loved ones, smiling and laughing until the early hours of the morning. That night was my first taste, and since then, I can’t get enough.”

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