Westfield Countryside mall was in a Christmas frenzy Sunday evening, with shoppers scurrying for last-minute presents and parents scheduling pictures with Santa.
But at the ice skating rink, it was all about Hanukkah.
About 500 people from around the Tampa Bay area attended the third annual Chanukah on Ice Celebration on Sunday evening. The event was hosted by Young Israel-Chabad of Pinellas County in Palm Harbor.
It was the largest turnout yet, said Rabbi Levi Hodakov, Chabad program director.
"Word has gotten around that this is the place to celebrate Hanukkah," Hodakov said.
Peggy Schott of Dunedin said the event was a perfect way for families to start the holiday.
"It's a wonderful thing because there are so many Christmas things, but nothing for Jewish children to be excited about," said Schott, while her 7-year-old grandson Ben snacked on a latke with applesauce.
Kids skated around a 9-foot inflatable menorah to traditional holiday songs while their parents shopped or had a bite to eat. Hundreds gathered around the skating rink to sing blessings when the menorah was lighted.
The event kicked off the eight-day Hanukkah celebration. Also known as the Festival of Lights, the holiday commemorates when Jews reclaimed the Holy Temple in Israel. They found only a day's worth of oil to light their menorah, but the oil burned for eight days.
Chabad director Rabbi Shalom Adler dedicated the ceremony to the victims of last month's terrorist attacks in Bombay, India, which took the lives of Rabbi Gavriel Noach Holtzberg and his wife, Rivkah, of the Mumbai Chabad House.
"The more light we can create here tonight, the more darkness we can dispel in this world," he said.
Dr. Aron Schlau, of Palm Harbor Medical Associates, who sponsored the event and lighted the menorah, said he hoped the children left with a greater respect for their history and spirituality. Schlau's father spent time in a Romanian concentration camp before ultimately immigrating to the United States, he said. "It almost cost my dad his life. So to be in this country, to be able to practice your heritage in the open without repercussions, it's a beautiful thing," said Schlau, 47.
Rita Farlow can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 445-4162.