First night of Hanukkah unites religious groups

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PANAMA CITY, Fla. (WJHG/WECP) - Sunday night is the first night to celebrate the Festival of Lights in our Jewish community.

Sunday marked the first night of Hanukkah and this year, Temple B'nai Israel is sharing the holiday with the Unity Spiritual Center of Panama City. (WJHG/WECP)

"We are just excited as can be," said President of Temple B'nai Israel, Robert Goetz.

This year, celebrating Hanukkah is a little different for the congregation at Temple B'nai Israel in Panama City.

"I've never celebrated Hanukkah before," said Ron Holdaway, the spiritual leader for Unity Spiritual Center of Panama City.

The Unity Spiritual Center of Panama City joined the temple for a Hanukkah celebration.

Since Hurricane Michael, the temple has opened up its doors to share space with the Spiritual Center after their building was severely damaged.

Instead of just sharing space, the two religious groups are now sharing ideas.

"We really enjoy, just enjoy swapping stories and learning the different meanings of what it means to be Christian and what it means to be Jewish," said Holdaway.

"There's so many ways that we connect and so many shared values that the two congregations have and I know that together, collectively we are building a stronger more vibrant Bay County," said Goetz.

Temple members are making sure those in the Spiritual Center are getting a little taste of Hanukkah as well.

"We eat potato latkes, potato pancakes fried in oil," said Goetz.

Much of the food served is symbolic of the holiday.

"Hanukkah is about the rededication of the Temple and finding oil that lasted not just one night as expected, but actually lasted eight nights," said Goetz.

And this year, Hanukkah's light is spreading the unity.

"By helping one another we become stronger and as individuals, our congregations become stronger and our community becomes much stronger," said Goetz.

Monday night Chabad Jewish Community Center of Panama City Beach will host a menorah lighting in Pier Park at 5 p.m.

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