Giant menorahs have been around for decades, but a mega menorah made of pizza set to rise over Clearwater Beach is likely the first of its kind.
The pizza menorah comes from the mind of Levi Hodakov, a rabbi at Chabad of Clearwater and a self-proclaimed "major pizza fan" (kosher definitely, New York style preferably).
"Google the stats on how many slices the average person eats per year," Hodakov said. "I'm probably triple or quadruple that."
While there is a long list of rules on how menorahs must be shaped, lit and displayed, there's nothing that says they can't be delicious, said Hodakov, who for years now has turned to a carpenter in his congregation for help constructing giant menorahs incorporating marshmallows, ice cream cones and other treats.
Hodakov said he couldn't reveal the secret details of the pizza menorah's construction, but the outcome, as always, will be the same: Those who attend the free, public lighting Sunday at 4:30 p.m. at the Surf Style Megastore will eat it during the celebration.
Chabad of Clearwater is one of 4,000-plus branches of Chabad Lubavitch, a Jewish organization known for thousands of giant menorahs lit in public spots around the world during Hanukkah. Dozens will go up around the Tampa Bay area during the holiday, which begins Saturday. The free lightings feature food, games, music, magicians, fire jugglers and more.
"Hanukkah is of particular significance because when the rabbis instituted the celebration for the holiday, they specifically mentioned that we have to publicize the miracle," Hodakov said. "Where other holidays are only in the home or at the synagogue, with Hanukkah, we have to publicize it in the best possible manner."
For Chabad, that means going big.
The biggest menorah in the bay area might be the 15-footer Chabad of South Tampa will light outside Tampa City Hall in an event that includes breakdancers, graffiti artists and a latke cooking demo, though another one displayed outside the Chabad of Clearwater building has been publicized as the "world's widest menorah."
Buccaneers lineman Ali Marpet will light a giant menorah outside of Amalie Arena, where attendees get free light-up menorah necklaces, and another giant will go up at Hyde Park Village. Chabad of Pinellas County will have a giant one made of balloons at the Westfield Countryside mall, and the new Chabad of Spring Hill will light its first giant, public menorah this year.
Chabad's giant menorahs descend from the original giant that debuted in San Francisco's Union Square in 1975 when a radio station manager and a rabbi wanted to promote Jewish awareness and turned to a guy who knew big-time events: Rolling Stones promoter Bill Graham. Graham paid for a 25-foot-tall menorah made of mahogany.
These days, the world's largest menorah is in New York City, but there's a rabbi rivalry over which is literally the biggest.
Guinness World Records officially proclaimed a 32-foot, 4,000-pound Manhattan menorah "world's largest" in 2006, but there's one in Brooklyn that's actually a foot taller, according to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. The Brooklyn-Manhattan menorah battle came to a head this year when a rabbinical court ruled in favor of Manhattan and forced the Brooklyn rabbi to change his menorah's branding.
The record won't likely be broken. A menorah taller than 32 feet is not kosher, Hodakov said.
Giant menorahs have been made of everything from surfboards (Australia) to tiki torches (Hawaii) and have been displayed on top of the Great Wall of China and on the back of an elephant in Thailand.
Last year, 309 people gathered in Cherry Hill, N.J., to set the record for world's largest human menorah, but a Guinness spokesman said the Jersey group never sent in the required paperwork, so the category is currently unopposed and up for grabs should some ambitious Tampa Bay rabbi want to take a crack at it.
It's not the size of the menorah that matters, though, said rabbi Mendy Dubrowski of Chabad of South Tampa.
"The main thing is spreading the message that even in darkness, in a society where you're bombarded with tragedy and sickness, a little light can shine a long way. Everyone is given a light, and they can dispel the darkness around them," Dubrowski said. "Every human being is welcome to come and enjoy, and bring their pets, too. Light overcoming darkness is a message that can be applied to everyone, whether they're a Jewish person who isn't practicing their faith, a totally different religion or not a person of faith at all."