Come light the Menorah


Posted 11/26/10

The Christmas wreaths, trees and reindeer decorating Bel Air’s Main Street will be joined by a Hanukkah menorah this year.

The man behind the menorah is Rabbi Kushi Schusterman, who is also holding Bel Air’s first public menorah lighting, set to take place at about 4:45 p.m. on Dec. 1, the first night of Hanukkah, in Shamrock Park.

Schusterman, 26, is an emissary with Chabad-Lubavitch, an international Hasidic organization that is focused on outreach to unaffiliated Jews. (“Chabad” is an acronym for the Hebrew words for wisdom, understanding and knowledge; Lubavitch is the Eastern European region where the organization began.)

He recently moved with his wife and 16-month-old daughter to Bel Air, and is getting settled into his new office in the basement of 102 N. Main Street, the site of Chabad Jewish Center of Harford County.

After the Dec. 1 Hanukkah celebration, which also includes magic for kids and food, the menorah will be moved to a more prominent location.

Schusterman said the town allowed him to put up the 9-foot-high menorah on Main Street, in front of the Chabad center, for the remaining seven nights of the holiday.

“[Shamrock Park] is a nice place to have an event but it’s not as noticeable, and one of the things of Hanukkah is to publicize the miracle,” he said.

Hanukkah commemorates the rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem in 165 B.C. after it was sacked by the Greeks.

The Talmud, a central Jewish religious text, explains the oil used to keep the Temple’s fire going miraculously lasted for eight days, the amount of time needed to get more oil.

A Hanukkah menorah is an eight-branched candelabra, with one new candle being lighted each night of the holiday.

Chabad hosts hundreds of public menorah displays worldwide.

Schusterman said he has only gotten positive feedback so far, both from local officials and residents.

One woman walking down Main Street was pleased when she saw him testing out the menorah outside the building.

“She was happy that it brought out the local Jewish pride, that people aren’t embarrassed of their religion,” he said. “Even non-Jews are excited. They think, ‘Oh, that’s so cool.’ They thought Christmas was the only holiday.”

The menorah display is just part of Schusterman’s goal of offering Harford’s Jews a greater sense of community.

He has about 100 people signed up for his mailing list so far and plans to start religious services, classes and any other programs that interest people.

The county’s only other established Jewish institution is Temple Adas Shalom in Havre de Grace, known as Harford Jewish Center.

“Each Jew thinks they are the only Jew in town,” Schusterman said about the people he has met. “The most common complaint I have heard is people are not aware of Jewish sensitivities, so if there’s like a prayer at the beginning of a meeting, it makes local Jews uncomfortable.”

He said he hopes to raise more awareness of issues local Jews have.

“Even if they are not ‘practicing,’ it doesn’t mean they are not proud of their Jewish heritage,” he said.