Close to 600 people came out on a beautiful Sunday afternoon to enjoy the Hanukkah Candle Lighting on the Square celebration at Lake Sumter Landing.
The event, which was hosted by Temple Shalom of Central Florida, took place on the first day of Hanukkah. The celebration was led by Temple Shalom Service Leader Larry Wallace and it kicked off with a performance by The Villages International Folk Dance Troupe.
The story of Hanukkah was interwoven with songs performed by the Temple Shalom Choir. Kenny Elinoff served as the Dancing Dreidel, giving children an opportunity to spin him while the candles on the Menorah were lit. This was the Village of Hadley resident’s first year as the dreidel.
“I am part of the Temple Shalom Ritual Committee, they asked me to do it and I said, ‘Sure,’” said Ellinoff. “I really like being part of the holiday. Doing this helps me feel the spirit of Hanukkah.”
Ellinoff was handing out small gifts to the children attending.
“I think I am having more fun than the kids,” he said.
Temple Shalom President Sandy Solomon was glad to see such a large crowd attend the candle lighting.
“We always welcome the community,” she said. “Not everyone is familiar with Hanukkah and this is a fun way to learn the story.”
Don Burgess, chairman of the Board of Sumter County Commissioners, put himself in that category.
“I am familiar with Hanukkah but have never attended a Menorah candle lighting service,” he said. “It was really quite interesting.”
Solomon, curious about the history of the Hanukkah Candle Lighting celebrations in The Villages, did a little digging.
“We have been celebrating Hanukkah at The Villages since the turn of this century,” she said. “Harold Schwartz (founder of The Villages) bought the first Menorah for Spanish Springs Square. We have always been a welcome part of the community here in The Villages.”
The audience ranged from people who remembered the first Hanukkah celebration in Florida’s Friendliest Hometown to a couple who have only been here a few months –but already have felt the outpouring of support from the Jewish Community.
“Look how we have grown,” said Helen Ziegler, commenting on the size of Sunday’s crowd. “I remember the first celebration for Hanukkah, there were maybe 50 people there.”
Shirley and Jack Somers moved to the Village of Osceola Hills nine months ago. They were taking care of Shirley’s mom, who had Alzheimer’s disease. Her mother passed away in September and they returned to New York for the service.
“Being caretakers, we really hadn’t gotten involved in any activities here,” Shirley said.
She did mention to one person that she’d like to have a Minyan for her mother. When they returned, they discovered that Wallace and Rabbi Yossi Hecht and his wife, Chanie, of the Chabad Lubavitch Jewish Center had organized a Minyan.
“There must have been 50 people there,” Shirley said. “To make newcomers feel so connected, we felt blessed to be part of the Jewish community here,” added Shirley, who along with husband Jack came to the candle lighting service with their dog, a Coton de Tulear named Sammie Goldlust, who was dutifully wearing a yarmulke.
The candle lighting service ended as it began, with the dancers from the International Folk Dance troupe on the square. But this time everyone was invited to join in the dancing.