Rejuvenating the Chanukah House with David and Wendy Hefter

David and Wendy Hefter in front of their newly decorated Chanukah House.

David and Wendy Hefter have transformed their house on Brightside Avenue off Reisterstown Road in Pikesville into a Chanukah wonderland, decorated with dreidels, lights, Jewish-themed blow-up figures and a hand-made, 6.5-foot menorah.

The display will be lit daily from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. during the holiday. Menorah-lighting times starting on the first night, Sunday, Dec. 18, can be found on “The Chanukah House of Pikesville” Facebook page.

The Hefters were inspired to create the Chanukah House after visiting Houston last December with their newly married daughter, Rebecca, and her husband, Elliot. They toured the city after the Sheva Brachot (“Seven Blessings” that follow a traditional Jewish wedding) and visited the Chanukah House in Houston’s Meyerland neighborhood.

“That lit the spark for us,” said David Hefter, adding that Wendy had grown up enjoying the original Chanukah House in Park Heights for years.

Wendy Hefter, 59, was born and raised in Pikesville, and attended both Beth Tfiloh Congregation and Suburban Orthodox Congregation Toras Chaim with her family.

David Hefter, 64, grew up in Elizabeth, N.J., and Wilkes Barre, Pa., and moved to Maryland in 1983. The Hefters now attend Suburban Orthodox and look forward to supporting the new Chabad House soon opening in west Pikesville.

Wendy is employed as a professional organizer, which she says came naturally to her as a wife and mother of four. David works as a government consultant. The Hefters’ children are Stephanie; Amy and Zev, and their 6-month-old son Mark; Daniel; and Rebecca and Elliot.

David shares that he was also inspired to create Chanukah House in memory of his father, Seymour (“Sy”) Hefter, who died in March 2020 and who was remembered as “a leader, a visionary and true giant in the field of Jewish communal service” in Wilkes-Barre.

The Hefters say they wanted to bring joy and light to the community.

David adds that his father, a social worker, was an experiential Jewish practitioner.

He “was a lifelong social worker who came to practice Judaism later in life. He believed that experiencing Judaism was very important as a family, and, as a grandfather, it was important to show his kids and grandkids how you can experience the love of Judaism by teaching others how to make dreidels and other things, rather than going out to buy them from a store, while working at the Wilkes-Barre’s JCC.”

“Judaism has many levels and flavors,” he added, recalling his father’s love of teaching others how to feel close to tradition.

Chanukah House in Pikesville (Courtesy)

The Hefters are not new to celebrating Jewish holidays experientially. In a 2016 article in the Baltimore Jewish Times, they were featured for their multigenerational sukkah inherited from David’s family, whose panels were originally painted by David’s dad.

Wendy remembers the Chanukah House at 6211 Park Heights Ave., a building owned by Ann and Morris Cohen, and organized by their son Irwin, and brothers William and Samuel Shoken. It became the center of regular festivities with elected officials for 20 years until the family sold it in 2009 and moved to Florida.

All the decorations from the Park Heights building went to a family on Greenspring Avenue, who set up Chanukah House for a couple of years.

The Hefters bought the original inventory in 2021 and started the process for the Chanukah House in Pikesville. They purchased additional decorations at local stores and online sales, helping them start the third reiteration of the annual tradition, “updated to our thoughts and processes.”

“Some items are original from both Park Heights and Greenspring; some modified; and David added a lot of new ones,” says Wendy. “We still have the porch dolls from the Park Heights House, rebbes with shtreimels [fur hats] from the Cohens’ home, and the snowman family has new outfits. A lot of the larger decorations — like the dreidels, the Jewish stars, the painted Jewish characters on the sidewalk — are originals from both houses.”

David built the menorah from a YouTube video on how to make one from PBC pipes, and painted and decorated tiki-torch holders on top of which he placed several holiday lights. According to the Chanukah House’s new website, David was also guided by YouTube details on hanging the lights, placing spotlights and arranging timers.

Wendy worked on the characters’ vintage clothing and accessories with her oldest daughter, Stephanie, while their son helped photograph the display.

The local fire company plans to join them for the menorah-lighting on the fifth night, and schools have been reaching out to share community activities.

As for the Hefters, they await the “Festival of Lights,” saying “it is exciting to continue the tradition.”

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