Thinking outside the menora

Thinking outside the menora

While menoras made of glass, metal or ceramics will be proudly displayed in most Jewish homes in the coming week, many Pittsburgh community institutions are thinking way out of the Chanuka box when it comes to kindling the holiday lights.
Cupcakes? Legos? Tiki torches?
“A menora can be made out of anything,” said Rabbi Mendel Rosenblum of Chabad of the South Hills. “In the Holocaust, people carved out potatoes to use as menoras. There is even a story of people using spoons.”
At Chabad of the South Hills this year, the community will be constructing a massive menora out of cans of food, which are being collected up until Dec. 4. After the menora is lit, the cans will be donated to the Squirrel Hill Community Food Pantry.
“The menora is a symbol of light,” Rosenblum said. “And we wanted to bring light to people who may be having a difficult time, who may be going through a little darkness.”
Also combining menora construction with a mitzva project, for the second year in a row, the students at Temple Sinai will be creating a menora out of cupcakes. With batter donated by Giant Eagle, parents and children will bake the chocolate and vanilla treats, and then bring them to the temple where they will be iced, then transformed into a large menora sculpture. Last year, 568 cupcakes were used.
“We’re expecting it to be much bigger this year,” said Debbie Haber, school administrator at Temple Sinai. “Afterward, we will take the cupcakes to senior citizens. Last year, we took them to Meals on Wheels.”
Engaging children in the fun of the holiday is the aim of a Lego menora-building contest at the Jewish Community Center-South Hills. The contest will take place at a communitywide celebration Monday, Dec. 6, which will also feature supper and songs.
“This is the second year we’re having the contest,” said Ann Haalman, director of family programs at the JCC-South Hills. “Last year, we had at least 20 menoras. We left them in the lobby, and had people vote on the best one. The kids had a great time.”
Across the country, menoras have been made of such unlikely materials as salami, donuts, ice and surfboards. People also have been known to place their Chanuka candles in such vessels as challas, pez dispensers and jelly beans.
While most Jewish preschools have their students create individual menoras out of items such as wood and dried pasta, the Isadore Joshowitz Early Childhood Center of Hillel Academy took the creative process one step further. In a collaborative project, students from the kindergarten, pre-k and nursery classes used foam packing peanuts, egg cartons and other materials to create a huge menora, currently displayed in the halls of the school.
Another twist on the traditional chanukia can be seen on the grounds of Beth El Congregation of the South Hills Thursday, Dec. 2, when tiki torches will be lit to commemorate the holiday.
“We did this last year through our religious school,” said Steve Hecht, executive director of Beth El, “and we wanted to build on it this year, so we will light the torches as part of our congregational Chanuka. It’s a unique concept.”
While the lighting of a simple, no-nonsense menora can be a spiritual event, area organizations are trying hard to come up with new ideas and gimmicks to help engage the community.
“You’ve got to catch people’s attention,” Rosenblum said.

(Toby Tabachnick can be reached at

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