The cold and a small contingent of protesters couldn’t dim the spirits of revelers who gathered above the Fairmount Fish Ladder on the banks of the Schuylkill River to celebrate the lighting of the sixth “candle” on Boathouse Row’s first-ever Chanukah “menorah” Dec. 29.
Those revelers included representatives from the office of Mayor Jim Kenney, the city’s Commission on Parks and Recreation, the Schuylkill Navy, the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia and the Jewish Exponent.
After speeches extolling the message of inclusivity and hope symbolized by each of the rowing houses being illuminated for each night of Chanukah, some of the more than 50-strong crowd huddled around Kenney and Beth David Reform Congregation’s Cantor Lauren Levy, who recited the traditional blessings over a menorah and sang several songs emblematic of the Festival of Lights. Celebrants then made their way to one of the rowing clubs to continue the festivities indoors.
Bonnie Mueller, secretary of the Schuylkill Navy, explained that the concept for the menorah, in which each of the boathouses was draped in blue light, while the central one — bathed in white — served as the shamash, was made possible by a reinstallation of LED lights as part of preparations for the Democratic National Convention.
Parks and Recreation Commissioner Kathryn Ott Lovell credited a non-Jewish member of her staff with coming up with the idea of turning the historic site into a menorah.
Lovell said she then called Tony Schneider, founder of Philadelphia City Rowing and a member of the Jewish Federation’s board of directors, who provided a “crash course” in Chanukah customs.
Looking across the river at the glistening buildings, Mueller remarked, “To us as rowers, it’s a reminder of how iconic and meaningful Boathouse Row is.”
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