Chanukah Brings Many Beams of Light to Central PA

By Adam Grobman

It wasn’t even Chanukah yet, and the new menorah, placed for the first time in Lancaster’s Penn Square, had already been damaged. Miriam Baumgartner, Board President of the Jewish Community Alliance of Lancaster, was feeling disheartened.

“When I saw the damage, I was in tears,” Miriam said. “I thought, ‘How are we going to light this tomorrow night?’”

Mark Lewin, the artist who created the menorah, was traveling at the time. Thankfully, Nate Boring, a local blacksmith, volunteered to repair the piece in time for the inaugural lighting on Sunday evening.

“I don’t know what we would have done without him,” Miriam said, noting that Mark made more repairs shortly after returning home. “And there just aren’t enough thanks for Mark – he donated all of his time to design the menorah, picked it up quickly for repairs – I just can’t thank him enough for everything he’s done.”

Small miracles came in all shapes and sizes throughout Chanukah, including in Harrisburg. After a subdued 2020 celebration, Chabad Lubavitch brought back its annual large-scale lighting of “Pennsylvania’s Menorah,” this year on the Capitol Steps.

“The Maccabees taught us to believe in the power of light – now in our times, this message of Chanukah is especially important,” Rabbi Shmuel Pewzner said at the ceremony. “Light has this magical effect where even just one candle can make a world of difference. Kindle just one flame in the darkness, and the darkness begins to fade. Kindle two, three, or four, and the darkness disappears.”

Last year, in the darkness of winter and the height of COVID – 19, many traditional celebrations were put on hold. A group of volunteers organized a drive-by Menorah Tour in the Forest Hills neighborhood. The new tradition continued this year, with participants parading by thirteen houses with menorah-dressed windows, enjoying treats shared by families, and greeting Rabbi Ron Muroff of Chisuk Emuna Congregation.

“The kids really, really enjoyed it,” said Ortal Klein, who helped to organize the event. “It’s very powerful to see all the menorahs – I think we will try to do this event every year.”

In-person celebrations popped up across the community this year, with Temple Beth Shalom flipping latkes in celebration and the community’s learning institutions coming together for a Chanukah Extravaganza at the Harrisburg JCC, both ahead of the final night of the holiday on Sunday, December 5.

Earlier in the week, on December 3, about 150 Beth El members gathered for a special holiday program called Let it Glow: A Magical Hanukkah Musical. The show, held in-person and streamed online, reimagined the movie Frozen as a Chanukah story, with Stuart Malina of Harrisburg Symphony Orchestra and Rabbi Ariana Capptauber performing as “Judah and Judith Macabee.”

The duo were accompanied by the “Beth Elves,” four children who served as narrators of the story.

“We showcased the magical story of Chanukah,” Rabbi Capptauber said. “It’s really important to do things that are fun and light at this time of year, when life has been hard, people have been isolated, and it’s getting colder – this was a real change of pace and these creative projects can bring Judaism alive in a different way.”