It was fitting that a Festival of Lights celebration illuminated the emerging Jewish community of Cranberry, a community that had been all but invisible to Jewish Pittsburgh until recently.
Members of the fledgling Cranberry Jewish Community lit a nine-foot menorah Wednesday, Dec. 4, the eighth night of Chanukah, before some 150 revelers at the front entrance of Cranberry Township Municipal Center.
The menorah lighting celebration, the first-ever public lighting of a chanukiah in Cranberry, was a joint effort between the Cranberry Jewish Community — an organization that was founded in 2011 — and Chabad of Fox Chapel and Friendship Circle.
“For me this is my home, and a home without my religious beliefs being part of my community makes it incomplete,” said Jack Cohen, the co-founder of the Cranberry Jewish Community. “I have my family here and they have children, and they need to know that there are other people that believe the way that they do and that will make them feel better about where they live. Being Jewish and sharing that with your neighbors is a good thing. Finding other Jewish families is also good.”
The Cranberry Jewish Community uses the Cranberry Municipal Center for meetings, and Cohen said that it was receptive to the proposal for an outdoor Chanukah celebration.
The event, called “Light Up the Night,” was advertised on the township’s website and was placed on its events calendar, inviting residents to the “Grand Menorah Lighting.”
The goal was not just to bring Jews together.
“We have to do ‘Jewish things’ when we get together, or the special things that bond us as a community,” said Rabbi Ely Rosenfeld of Chabad of Fox Chapel. “There’s no more beautiful way to bring that out than getting together to light a menorah, whose message is uniting everyone to do good deeds and take advantage of the religious freedom that this great country of America offers us.”
Under a tent set up on the building grounds, latkes, doughnuts and hot drinks were served, and musicians and a juggler entertained the crowd. Children also received light-up menorah necklaces.
Each candle of the menorah was lit by a person integral to the event, including Jack Cohen, several Cranberry township officers and Rabbi Mordy Rudolph, director of Friendship Circle.
The event drew not just Cranberry and other Butler County residents, but folks from neighboring townships.
Mark Pizov of McCandless attended with his wife, Olga, and sons, Alex, 12 and Benjamin, 10. He said his family came out to support the event to not only demonstrate religious diversity in the northern suburbs but “…to bring awareness of the growing Jewish community in the North Hills and, most importantly, to show to my children that we are proud to be Jewish.”
“It is so wonderful to be able to celebrate the Jewish holidays right in my own neighborhood,” said Cranberry resident Elana Kriess, who attended with her sons, Campbell, 14, and Jonah, 10. “I hope Cranberry Township continues to embrace and celebrate the multicultural community it is becoming.”
Non-Jews, including Sherry Maudie of Cranberry, also attended.
“I came to support the Jewish community and join in the festival and the blessings that they give us,” Maudie said.
Attendance at the event, which was the first in what is expected to be an annual celebration, exceeded Cohen’s expectations.
“I think it was a great turnout and a great beginning of things to come,” he said, “more events and more community gatherings.”
(Hilary Daninhirsch can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)