Friday, December 09, 2005

The Miracle on Park Heights Avenue
Is Chanukah In The House?

The Chanukah House

6211 Park Heights Avenue

Baltimore, Maryland

I was going to hold off writing about this until a little later in the holiday season, but in the past few days some people whose blogs I follow had written about what it is like to be Jewish during the Christmas season and how alienating it can be. I've been so wrapped up with my tinsel and trees, I'm out of it, but when I read their blogs, I thought, "Hoshanah, Hon's. Have I got the place for you."

Klezmer Band and Fiddler on the Roof
Note the disco ball above the portico
Too much? Not for Balmer, Hon.

For some time, I had read about a Chanukah House in Baltimore, the kosher version of Miracle on 34th Street. Baltimore is already known for it's over-the-top camp charm, and this house is no exception. Last year on a very rainy night I sought it out, and I was not disappointed. The house is actually divided up into four apartments, and each resident has a role in setting up the display. How would you like that (not Santa) clause written into your contract?

The Shalom Flag

One of the residents, Irv Cohen, began the tradition in the late 1980's when he spotted a two-foot high metal knight in a crafts store in Virginia. Cohen, a graphic designer with an artistic eye, purchased nine of the figures, lined them up, wired them for electricity and the "Knights of the Menorah" were born.

The "Knights" of Menorah. The initial inspiration.

Things evolved and
every year another section was added: Fiddlers on the Roof, wearing cast off clothing from Mr. Cohen and his father, the Dreidel Tornado, Herschel Harry Potter and so much more.

"We knew some Shreks in Miami. Lovely couple."

The h
ouse is located at 6211 Park Heights Avenue, and there is a website with more information on the house, the lighting of the centerpiece menorah, and directions:

The six-foot high menorah with oil-fueled flames

It takes about 100 man hours to set the house up, but only 10 hours to take it down. The centerpiece menorah has traditionally been lit by the Mayor of Baltimore on the first night of Chanukah (this year December 25th), and for every night of Chanukah prayers are offered followed by informal tours. In an article from the Baltimore Jewish Times, Mr. Cohen was quoted as saying, "Chanukah is a mitzvah, a blessing, and Jewish people are required to publicize the miracle of Chanukah. It's called 'Pirsumei Nissa, and for over 2,000 years people have been putting the menorah in a very prominent place in the home where people can see it." In the case of Chanukah House, that is easily accomplished: the menorah is out at the entrance to the sideway blasting away from it's six-foot base on oil-fed flames that shoot up into the night."

Dreidel! ...and the Eternal Flame Menorah Under Glass


Dreidel! ...and it spins..all five feet of it.

There is so much to take in: Mr. Potato Latke Head, a life-sized four member klezmer band seated in chairs on the house's upper balcony, a dreidel tree, a "Shalom" American flag in red, white and blue lights, Schmoopy and more.

Mr. Potato Latke Head. Note Speidel Man on the left pillar.

"Shalom Y'all" -- "W" and his red, white and blue menorah candles

Herschel Harry Potter and friends

Poo? Jewish? Who knew?

Not all are enthralled with Chanukah House. It is located in a religious community on a street lined with synagogues, y
eshivas and social centers , but somehow over time they have arrived at an acceptance of this tradition.

Spare me the JAP jokes. Chanukah Barbie

This sign is next to the glass-encased Barbie. It says: F.Y.I. Why is Barbie lighting Chanukah candles, you ask? As a Jewish girl, why shouldn't she? Did you know that Barbie was created in 1959 by Ruth Handler? She and her husband Elliot Handler, a nice Jewish couple from Denver, Colorado, were the founders of Mattel, Inc. They named Barbie for their daughter Barbara and two years later, in 1961 when the Ken doll was introduced, named it for their son Ken. So now you know!

Given the time to put this showpiece together every year, and the high monthly electric bills that must come as a result, it truly is a marvel.

The Menorah Tree

To quot
e Mr Cohen, it's creator, "Who in their right mind would do something like this with no monetary gain? It's a labor of love, and we love doing it." One housing director was quoted as saying, "It gives a little bit of extra character to Park Heights Avenue." Santa Claus, Schmanta Claus. Now that is an understatement, Hon.

Happy Chanukah, Hon.
Shnaidel The Snowman


Anonymous datingrulesforsitcoms said...

Once again you are in the know and the rest of us are not worthy! I bow to you. Awesome post!

2:52 PM  
Blogger DC Cookie said...

Makes me want to burst out in a verse of Adam Sandler's 'Hannukah Song,' (you have to love a word that can be spelled 12 different ways correctly).

"So drink your gin and tonic-a, and smoke your marijan-ica...and have a happy happy happy happy Hannukaaaaaah"

2:53 PM  
Blogger Phil said...

Best way to get your holiday more notoriety? Commercialize it.

3:46 PM  
Blogger Complacent Chase said...

I love it!!! This is so great! Happy Chanukah!

4:02 PM  
Blogger ThaiMex1 said...

Happy HannuKwanzaMas to one and all!!!

Cube? *DING* Fries are done, *DING* Fries are done...

4:19 PM  
Blogger JordanBaker said...

This is awesome--it reminds me of when I worked in a Major Bookstore Chain in a highly Jewish suburb. Best selling item one holiday season? Stuffed Pooh Bear holding Dreidel. Actual label on shipping boxes? "100 ct. Winnie the Jew."

I kid you not.

4:32 PM  
Blogger Barbara said...

WOW! This makes me so excited to be Jewish. We may drive over to Baltimore just to see it and well maybe to go out to one of Baltimore's many ethnic restaurants. People always associate Hanukkah with the dreidle -- pretty lame in comparison with a Christmas tree. But these people have taken every symbol ever connected to Judaism and thrown it into the real limelight. This post is a keeper!

6:46 PM  
Blogger Indri said...

I don't even know where to start... that is amazing. Thanks for recording it so faithfully.

8:08 PM  
Blogger Washington Cube said...

Dating: Thanks. Glad you enjoyed it.

Cookie: I am fascinated by the myriad spellings myself. I stuck with the one they use at the house, for consistency sake. Normally, I would use the "H." Now I've got that silly song in my head again.

Phil: I saw in the Washington Post yesterday where they have marketed that joke leg lamp from Gene Shepherd's Christmas story involving getting the Red Ryder BB gun. They even box it the same way the story describes with "fragile" marked on the side. So a silly object in a humorous Christmas story becomes a marketable item.

Chase: Happy Holidays to you too.

Thai: You know I'm a sucker for all of those horrible Christmas songs and the Esquivel bachelor Christmas cha cha cha and I sob every time Judy Garland sings "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas" in Meet Me In St. Louis.

Jordan: Time for the haiku. Poo, Jew, Who Knew.

Barbara: Just make sure you check on the dates and times. It is ONLY on display during the exact days of Chanukah. I would think if you check Baltimore City Paper online, they may show the information you need. You were one of three writers discussing this subject that made me decide to go ahead and post this.

8:11 PM  
Blogger always write said...

What a great post. At first I was appalled by the spectacle, but you made me realize they've got a sense of humor about it. The thing nobody seems to realize is that Hannukah is pretty low on the Jewish holiday totem pole. (Am I mixing metaphors?) When I lived in Tel Aviv it came and went with hardly a murmur. But American Jews -- and merchandisers -- have pumped it up to compete with Christmas, mostly for the sake of retail and to give children something (or eight things) to call their own while their friends are tearing open boxes under the tree.

8:44 PM  
Anonymous drew said...

The Menorah Tree? Egads, and they screamed about "Holiday Tree".

Happy Christmakwanzaka Solstice!

It makes me want to decorate my house for the equivalent and equally beautiful religious traditions of my newfound beliefs in the Flying Spaghetti Monster! Pastafarians, unite!

9:26 PM  
Blogger Siryn said...

Wait, Barbie and Ken are having an incestuous relationship?! That's gross!! ;)

I think it's a hoot. Overdone like many a house with Christmas lights!

9:37 PM  
Blogger Reya Mellicker said...

By nature I'm a drama queen, so a spectacle such as the Hanukkah house really appeals. This is beautiful. I have to go have a look.

It's funny becuase Hannukah (I'll try to spell it differently each time, Cookie) is a rather minor holiday in Jewish trad, or would be, except we have to do something during winter solstice to keep up with the Joneses.

I want you to know I've ordered my Moses Christmas ornament. Couldn't quite make myself order the Torah ornament as I'm still making amends to the Five Books, but having Moses on our Christmas tree will be just perfect.

Cube you are perfection.

12:33 AM  
Blogger Rhinestone Cowgirl said...

I need to move to Baltimore. First the Hamden Christmas lights, now this. Balmoreans seem like my kind of (tasteless, over the top) people.

10:11 AM  
Blogger Merujo said...

This is brilliant in its divine tackiness. I *so* need to go see this in person. Bal'mer, here I come! (Gives me a good excuse to go eat at the Nile Cafe in Fells Point...)

10:55 AM  
Blogger Megarita said...

Oh man I just saw 34th Street for the first time last week -- I had to sit on the sidewalk and catch my breath so I wouldn't keel over. I love holiday peer pressure.

1:08 PM  
Blogger Miss Penny Lane said...

As a member of the tribe, I can tell you how embarrassing this is! Classic case of Americanization and commericalization of a holiday that isn't even very big. In Israel, gifts aren't given, and it really is just a holiday for the kids. They eat jelly stuffed doughnuts (called "soof-gahn-ee-yote") and potato latkes.

Isn't it interesting that the first night of Chanukah falls on December 25th this year? Definitely Chrisnukah for me, as I will be celebratin' Christmas with The Chef's family...

(My word verification is JEYYW. Hmmmmm!!)

1:33 PM  
Anonymous Dave EE o said...

Somehow I'm reminded of The Soft Parade by the Doors, I remember studying the events behind this feast in an Inter-Testamental History class in college. Interesting, Chanukkah is the observation of a miraculous event that occurred after a revolutionary victory by Judas Maccabeus a.k.a. "Judas The Hammerer", over the local occupying Greek government and Jewish sympathizers. Judas & the Traditionalists retook the Temple and the Menorah miraculously burned for 8 days on 1 day's oil. Funny, the military aspect is not as important as the religious significance. Ironic that it memorializes a spiritual event that grew out of a guerilla warfare victory over assimilation and government oppression but is considered by a lot of people today as a Jewish version of a Christmasy holiday. Help me out here ...

2:42 PM  
Blogger Indri said...

I love it that everyone (hi Reya!) is making the same point I always make around this time of year, about Chanuka (there's another) being small potato (latkes) as far as our holidays go. I thought I was the only, um, Scrooge about it.

I try to look at it this way: my birthday is tomorrow, the eleventh. And look at all these celebrations everyone is having for me, regardless of their faith! Christmas! Hannukah! Kwanzaa, which they made up special!

And Cube, thanks for stopping by my blog. I'm going to follow you too, you're fun.

6:19 PM  
Blogger Washington Cube said...

Always: Baltimore is such a loosey goosey kind of town. It figures something like this would originate there. One thing I marvel at is they only leave it up for the days of Chanukah, which isn't very long, and they spend so many man hours putting it up.

Drew: Even though I celebrate Christmas, I can certainly appreciate the glut that goes on this time of year from someone else's perspective. This year I am enjoying all of the stages of the holiday. Another year? I'm wishing I was a month in St. Bart starting

Siryn: That's one thing I love about this house. The only one I've ever seen (or heard about) that goes overboard for Chanukah. As for the Barbie/Ken thing...yeah. Huge ewwie.

Reya: It was actually something you wrote that got me going to The Google to see if there was such a thing as a Jewish Christmas ornament. Who knew? What is really amazing is they are advertised as "Torah Christmas ornament" when you Google.

Rhinestone: Balmer is oh so over the top. This house is just one of many, many things that reflect a unique outlook on culture. Sometimes Washington seems a little too sanitized as opposed to Baltimore who doesn't give a flying flame what anyone thinks about it.

Merujo: Just remember the house is only decorated during the days of Chanukah, so if you go, if you have to hit that time frame. I was only able to go one of those nights, and it happened to be the night there was a torrential rain, hence all that beaded water on Barbie's glass case.

Megarita: Great fun, huh?

Miss Penny: LOVED your word verification.

Dave: You don't need any help. I love following your patterns.

Indri: Thank you for mentioning me on your blog. Happy Birthday tomorrow, and I agree with you. I'm enjoying all of the celebrations.

7:26 PM  
Blogger Lizzie said...

I had the same thought as Siryn. Barbie and Ken are brother and sister?? My childhood just became slightly more disturbing.

Love the post. I might just have to take a drive up to Baltimore to see it for myself.

1:39 PM  
Blogger cuff said...

This house is almost worth a trip to Balmer. It's so crowded and kitschy. On a smaller scale it could be a performance art installation. Maybe it is.

11:55 AM  
Blogger Neil said...

I always thought Barbie looked Jewish.

2:01 PM  
Blogger NotCarrie said...

Oh my gosh I NEED to go there!

4:20 PM  
Blogger elvira black said...

This is totally awesome. Great pictures!

Chanukkah House--leave it to a Yiddishe kopf!

I imagine if John Waters was Jewish, he might have come up with something like this.

12:03 PM  
Anonymous Nik said...

I used to live across the street from that house *chuckle*

1:23 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

As an orthodox Jew who visits family in Baltimore each year, I've been to the Chanukah House many times and can tell you that the orthodox community in the neighborhood loves the house. A visit to the Chanukah House has become a yearly tradition for my family and so many others.
According to Jewish tradition, a huge part of Chanukah is to publicize the miracle of the holiday.
(This miracle involved a small amount of oil which should have only lasted one day lasting a full eight days-hence the eight days of Chanukah.)
The commandment to publicize this miracle is why traditionally the menorah is lit in a window for all to see. Everyone I've spoken to on the lawn of the house
ranging the gammet from the most secular to the most orthodox of religiosities agrees that the decorations, while certainly over the top, definitely accomplish this goal. You can't get more "public" than a six foot torch lit menorah!
And without question, the smiles on the faces of both children and adults who stop by are a testament to how much holiday joy and spirit this spectacular and fun display evokes.

2:17 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

There is a family that does a very similar thing in Brooklyn, NY, They do it on a proportionally smaller scale as the house is much smaller.

10:39 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Brooklyn family has a webpage too, it is

12:40 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I grew up waiting for this house to light up every year! Even though I am not Jewish, there has always been something about this house that I always loved. I now live on the west coast, so it is great that I can see pictures of this house from afar.

9:39 PM  

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