Hanukkah comes to East Baltimore

Jewish Community Center brings holiday to Canton Pratt

  • Stella Chang, 22 months, watches as Wilson Smith, 4, and Miriam Beck, 3, remove pieces from a play menorah at the Canton branch of the Enoch Pratt Free Library. The Jewish Community Center of Greater Baltimore organized the event.
Stella Chang, 22 months, watches as Wilson Smith, 4, and Miriam… (Baltimore Sun photo by Kim…)
December 11, 2009|By Matthew Hay Brown | matthew.brown@baltsun.com

Sharon Seigel pulled the wooden candelabrum from her canvas bag and asked if anyone in her young audience knew what it was.

"A menorah!" shouted 4-year-old Dylan Hicks.

"And does anyone know what we put in it?"

"Candles!" Dylan shouted.

Oliver Bui, meanwhile, watched from his mother's arms. The sights and sounds of Hanukkah were entirely new to the 6-month-old - and also to his mother.

"I think it's great," said Kim Bui, who is not Jewish. "It's exposing kids to other cultural celebrations."

The Jewish Community Center of Greater Baltimore brought the Festival of Lights to Jews and gentiles alike Thursday at the Canton branch of the Enoch Pratt Free Library.

The "Hands-On Holiday" was part of a continuing push by the JCC to bring programs that are popular at its Owings Mills center into Baltimore. While the effort has helped the JCC reach Jewish families that live in the city, it has also allowed the organization to share Jewish culture with the broader community.

"One of the obligations of being Jewish is to welcome the stranger," said Seigel, director of parent, infant and toddler services at the JCC. "To invite people to share the holiday."

This time, the holiday was Hanukkah, which begins after sundown today. The eight-day celebration is when Jews commemorate the rededication of the temple in Jerusalem after a military victory in the second century B.C. According to the Talmud, there was only enough consecrated oil to light the temple flame for one day, but the flame burned for eight - the amount of time it took to produce more holy oil.

On Thursday morning, Siegel, Linda Lapidus and Lauren Sachs took over the Canton library's Mother Goose on the Loose program for preschoolers for two sessions. During the first, they led two dozen toddlers, their moms and a few dads in songs about the dreidel, the spinning top used in a Hanukkah game, and latkes, the potato pancakes eaten on the holiday.

Deb Hicks, mother of Dylan and 2-year-old Zoey, is a regular at the "Hands-on Holiday" programs, which include presentations for Purim and Passover, and a regular "Tot Shabbat" at the Jewish Museum of Maryland.

"They're always good," she said. "They do a great job."

Dori Chait was reminded of the Hanukkah parties of her Long Island childhood.

"I grew up going to the JCC," said Chait, who brought 23-month-old Zachary to the session. "It's nice to be able to do it for him. We want him to know his heritage, his culture."

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