Two shuls are better than one: Joint outdoor Chanukah event draws hundreds

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On the second night of Chanukah, members of two congregations gathered to celebrate the holiday in grand style and with flare. Chizuk Amuno Congregation and Beth El Congregation, both in Pikesville, held their annual joint “Chanukah Lights Up the Sky” event on Monday night, Dec. 19, drawing a crowd of more than 700 people — members of both synagogues, along with other guests.

Glimpses of “Chanukah Lights Up the Sky,” a joint event between Chizuk Amuno and Beth El congregations that took place on Dec. 19, the second night of Chanukah. (David Stuck)

The program has taken place annually for the past several years, with the two shuls joining together due to their proximity and status as the two largest Conservative congregations in the area.

“If we held events at the same time, we would be competing against each other,” said Cantor Melanie Blatt of Beth El. “We figured it would be a great opportunity for the community to come together through this one event.”

The name “Chanukah Lights Up the Sky” is quite literal, as attendees watched the lighting of a giant menorah and saw a fireworks show. Six13, a Jewish New York-based a cappella group, performed a concert outside of Beth El, which also offered a kosher dairy dinner and Chanukah-themed activities for younger attendees.

The giant menorah was specially built for this event, having been constructed out of seven-and-a-half-foot PVC pipes and tiki torches that served as its candles. It was built to be wind-resistant so that it could be lit regardless of the weather.

The celebration was designed originally as an indoor event, but when the congregations started incorporating fireworks into the festivities, parts of the program were moved outside. While there was no event held in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, last year’s festivities were held entirely outdoors.

“We hoped that the lights of the menorah and the light of the fireworks would bring light to the holiday season,” said Blatt, “and the whole year and whole community, linking people and bringing them together through the celebration, music and activities.”

Rabbi Deborah Wechsler of Chizuk Amuno Congregation noted that “the program looks a little different every year. We try to keep it fresh.”

‘A feeling of friendship and community’

“Chanukah Lights Up the Sky” is a labor of love and collaboration between the two shuls, which occasionally work together on events. Staff from Beth El and Chizuk Amuno participated in organizing the celebration. Smaller activities as part of it were arranged by local Jewish camps and schools associated with both synagogues, such as Chizuk Amuno’s Krieger Schechter Day School.

“Working together makes us stronger,” said Wechsler. “I think it helps us feel like one united Jewish community, rather than each synagogue celebrating individually for themselves, and it highlights what we have in common.”

She added that “we’re really grateful for our partnership with Beth El, and we’re always grateful for opportunities to work together.”

Overall, event organizers said that the joint effort helps enrich everyone’s early-winter season, as well as adds excitement, entertainment, a communal feel to the holiday and, most of all, brings literal light to the darkness at a time when it’s needed the most.

Said Wechsler: “I hope they had a wonderful feeling of friendship and community, and that they were able to fulfill the mitzvah of Chanukah in a really special way.”

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