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Richard Dymond/
Thumbs Up to Bukiet

Rabbi Mendy Bukiet of Chabad of Bradenton displays a menorah on the roof of his 2003 Sonata, which will light up during Hanukkah.

Rabbi Mendy Bukiet of Chabad of Bradenton displays a menorah on the roof of his 2003 Sonata, which will light up during Hanukkah. GRANT JEFFERIES/The Herald


LAKEWOOD RANCH - Rabbi Mendy Bukiet sports a menorah on the roof of his car, all the better he says to bring attention to Hanukkah's true meaning.

"I've gotten a few thumbs up," said Bukiet, of Chabad of Bradenton, after a day of driving his Hyundai with the Jewish candle holder with eight bulbs and a helper bulb attached to the car's roof. " I think I am probably the first person ever to have a menorah on a car here."

Also called The Festival of Lights, Hanukkah is celebrated for eight days, Dec. 26 through Jan. 2 this year.

Bukiet, who had his metal menorah custom-made in New York, will insert the first bulb into the menorah on Dec. 25 and light another each day thereafter.
In New York, parades with cars and trucks adorned with elaborate menorahs are common on Hanukkah, said Bukiet, whose East Manatee-based congregation now has about 40 families meeting in the Braden River Middle School cafeteria 9:30 a.m. every Saturday.

"I've seen menorahs with eight little Empire State Buildings," said Bukiet, who has had talks with Schroeder-Manatee Ranch Inc. officials about land for a Chabad of Bradenton synagogue at Lakewood Ranch in the next few years.

In Manatee County, Temple Beth El, Chavurah Ner Tamid and Chabad of Bradenton will all have Hanukkah services this year, but none are planning a menorah-mobile parade yet.

In fact, Rena Moreno of Chavurah Ner Tamid has never seen a vehicle in Bradenton decked out in after-market menorah.

"I have never seen a menorah mobile, but I know that it is a custom to display the menorah in the window so that the lights of Hanukkah are visible," Moreno said. "So, this is taking it the next logical step in our technological era."

During Chavurah Ner Tamid's celebration Friday, children will lead the congregation in thoughts about rededicating oneself to different ideals each night of Hanukkah, Moreno said.

The lack of menorah mobiles in Manatee County hasn't stopped the fun-loving Bukiet, who, for a "Purim at the Ranch" festival at Lakewood Ranch, dressed as a cowboy.

"It wouldn't be appropriate to put a giant matzoh on your car during Passover or a giant shofar during Rosh Hashanah, but for Hanukkah, a menorah on the roof is OK," Bukiet said. "This is a holiday where we are proud to be Jews, and we are proud to tell the story of the miracle of religious freedom."

The story of Hanukkah tells of the ancient Jews' battle against Syria, which tried to prevent Jews from practicing their faith.

Even though the Syrians were driven away, the invaded army desecrated the Jewish Holy Temple.

When the Jews returned to the temple, they found only one small bottle of oil left to light the menorah.

Yet, that small amount burned for eight days.

Since then, lighting the menorah each night for eight nights has symbolized the miracle of religious freedom, Bukiet said.

Bukiet started Chabad of Bradenton with his wife, Chanie, and four or five others in July, 2004.

Members of the local Chabad are not surprised by the rabbi's menorah-mobile.

"I think that is very appropriate knowing the rabbi and his enthusiasm," said Chabad member Bobbi Frey, who moved to Lakewood Ranch from Yardley, Pa., with her husband, Steve, and two children about a year ago.

Frey credits Bukiet for welcoming her husband into the Chabad even though he is Christian and she is Jewish.

"The feeling is that no matter who or what you are, you can celebrate with them," said Frey, who first learned about Chabad of Bradenton when she attended last year's Hanukkah celebration at Prime Outlets Mall in Ellenton, an event also scheduled this year. "They are very open and welcome."

Bukiet said he is always thinking of ways to get the message of religious freedom to everyone on Hanukkah, which is translated from the Hebrew as dedication.

During this year's Dec. 26 Hanukkah event at Prime Outlets Mall, Mark Pegran, who sculpts ice, will transform a large block of ice into a menorah.

Bukiet hopes people who see the menorah on his car or at the mall seek to learn the story of Hanukkah.

Bobbi Frye has no plans to put a menorah on her Lincoln Navigator this year, however.

"We'll have our menorah in our window at home," she said with a giggle.