City Hall got into the Chanukah spirit on Wednesday as Baltimore officials gathered for the third annual lighting of the City Hall menorah.
While hundreds are expected to turn out for the lighting of the 30-foot Esther Ann Menorah at McKeldin Square in the Inner Harbor on Sunday, the pre-Chanukah ceremony at City Hall provided new Mayor Catherine Pugh, the city council president, council members and others the opportunity to kick off the holiday early with the candle lighting as well as songs performed by the kids choir from Cheder Chabad.
“I think it is very appropriate that we have a City Hall menorah,” said Rabbi Chesky Tenenbaum, director of the Jewish Uniformed Service Association of Maryland. “The holiday of Chanukah celebrates light defeating darkness, and there is no better place to light the menorah than where they actually set all of the laws.”
Tenenbaum helped to initiate the annual tradition in collaboration with City Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young and his citywide Jewish community liaison Betsy Gardner. “Now we are continuing the tradition and educating the public and the city on the importance of Chanukah and how it connects everyone — lighting the city to bring everyone together,” Tenenbaum said.
Rabbi Elchonon Lisbon of Park Heights Chabad explained to those gathered that Chanukah was about being proactive and going after what you want, rather than being slothful. He said that Judah and the Maccabees represented those who knew that they deserved better and acted to regain control of their lives, rather than sitting idly by.
“Don’t accept reality as it is, make the changes in your own individual lives and collectively as one,” he told the crowd. “Many of you in the audience are leaders in our community and you have dedicated your lives to bring light into people’s lives.”
Several officials in attendance took the statement to heart.
“I wear my Judaism on my sleeve, I am very proud of it,” said city councilman Zeke Cohen. “The way I operate as a council person is through the lens of tikkun olam.”
Howard Libit, director of the Baltimore Jewish Council and a former member of the Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake’s senior staff, recognized the long-standing relationship between the city and its Jewish community.
“All of our elected officials are so accommodating of the Jewish community and so responsive to our needs, [the City Hall menorah] is just another example,” he said. “It is meaningful to respect all of the different faiths of our city because that is what makes us strong, all the different people who come together.”
Young said that Chanukah, while a Jewish holiday, has a more universal message.
“The City Hall menorah represents … the victory of religious freedom and a miracle of God,” said Young. “As we prepare to light the menorah, let us remember that God wants to draw all of us closer. 2016 has been a year that tests our city’s faith and strength. This menorah is a symbol of just how powerful we can be as a community when we come together and hold each other up.”