GLOUCESTER — Through a heavy mist, a new light shone in this Massachusetts seaport, a light for the first night of Hanukkah and a first-of-its-kind light in a new local tradition. In front of Temple Ahavat Achim (TAA) on Middle Street stood a giant hanukkiah — constructed from lobster traps.
Every year since 2001, the town, with its historical ties to fishing and lobstering, has constructed a forty-five foot Christmas Tree built from lobster traps. Erected in the heart of downtown next to the police station, the tree is strung with colored lights and festooned with lobster buoys hand-painted by area children at the Cape Ann Art Haven. The whimsical tree was an instant hit with the community. Within a few years, the custom had spread to other seaside towns in Maine and Massachusetts, and as far away as Barrington, Nova Scotia.
Several years ago, TAA member Michael Gerber had an idea to connect the Cape Ann Jewish community to the town custom. Lobsters may be treif (unkosher), but there did not seem to be any reason not to join in the playful community spirit with a menorah built from traps and buoys. Last Sunday, his idea finally took form, as volunteers assembled a 14-foot high hanukkiah from twenty-two lobster traps — donated by local lobstermen Don Riley and Mark Ring — topped by nine electrically lit lobster buoys to serve as candles. The 20-foot long structure was designed by Paul Erhard, a local structural engineer and temple member.
Amid Tuesday’s light drizzle, a crowd estimated at nearly 200 gathered after sunset for the lighting of what is believed to be the world’s first lobster trap hanukkiah. Temple members, townspeople and television film crews were joined by Gloucester’s mayor, Carolyn Kirk, and State Representative Ann-Margaret Ferrante, both of whom spoke about the close ties between the community and the synagogue.
Children from the temple’s Sylvia Cohen Religious School sang, and Rabbi Steven Lewis led the traditional candle blessings. In the spirit of Hanukkah as rededication, Rabbi Lewis spoke of the devastating fire that had destroyed the synagogue building in 2007 and the commitment and dedication of the community and synagogue members that resulted in rebuilding on the same site.
Following the lighting, visitors were invited into the Temple for latkes, applesauce and schmoozing. More than three hundred latkes were served to the overflow crowd.