Record crowd turns out downtown for menorah lighting, latkes, klezmer music
As I moved through the crowd during Chabad of South Orlando's Chanukah Celebration in downtown Winter Garden Monday night, I kept overhearing incredulous exclamations of I thought I was the only Jew in Winter Garden!
Apparently there are quite a few of us.
Laura Coar, Winter Garden's director of parks and recreation, told VoxPopuli that 175 people (and their dogs) crowded onto Plant Street outside of the post office — a record for this event, which Chabad of South Orlando has hosted in Winter Garden for the past four years. Folks were treated to the music of Jay Marder's Klezmer Band (helmed by Oakland's former town planner Jay Marder who retired in July) and watched the menorah lighting on Chanukah's second night. Afterward, Chabad volunteers dished up latkes and sno-cones while fire eaters and twirlers entertained those who lingered.
Mixed into the crowd were Winter Garden District 2 City Commissioner Ron Mueller, who received special thanks from Chabad for his assistance promoting the festivities across social media, along with Commissioner Lisa Bennett, who represents District 1, including downtown, and Mayor John Rees.
"People want to feel that the city is for them," said Chabad's Rabbi Yosef Konikov who led the menorah lighting ceremony. "They want to have Chanukah here, too, just like there are many other holidays. And this event was not just for the Jewish community. Everyone was able to come, and they all had a good time. The symbol of the menorah is a symbol of religious freedom."
The city took heat earlier this month on this site as well as a discussion thread on Winter Garden Rants, Raves and Reviews for not including the Chanukah Celebration in its holiday promotions while actively promoting Light Up Winter Garden, which also includes religious content and is sponsored by the West Orange Ministerial Association. City officials still have not provided an explanation for the disparity despite several requests from VoxPopuli.