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Happy Chanukah! The Story of Del Ray’s Menorah

The Del Ray menorah (Perry Family Collection)

ALEXANDRIA, VA – Christmas is a big deal in Alexandria. In 2017, Debbie Perry thought Chanukah should be celebrated too. She loves her Del Ray neighborhood and wanted her kids and other Jewish families in the city to feel included. That was the inspiration behind Del Ray’s menorah.

Tonight is the fourth night of Chanukah, and The Zebra reached out to Perry to talk about the creation of the menorah, built by her husband Alex, that stands in Pat Miller Square (2311 Mt. Vernon Ave).

“Within a day or so, Alex had built it from PVC pipes and Mason jars and ran the wiring through to make it all work.  Now we store it in our garage.”

The first year, Perry contacted her friend and former neighbor Jen Walker, who put her in touch with Sue Kovalsky, Pat Miller, and Gayle Reuter. They were all on board, and it was a hit. But every time her husband sets it up – even though they have the support of this community’s Jewish leaders – Perry feels a bit nervous.

“We wonder what people might think – both Jewish and non Jewish,” she said. “Does it look like we’re pushing into a Christmas celebration?  Does it look like we’re trying to make Chanukah look like Christmas?”

Debbie Perry’s husband, Alex, and their kids stand with the menorah. (Perry Family Collection)

Perry admitted those questions disappeared this year at the annual Del Ray Holiday Lighting (originally the Christmas tree lighting) on Sunday, Dec. 4, when she spotted someone in the crowd.

“[A]s I stood on the stage with Rabbi Romano from Beth El Hebrew Congregation, I looked out in the crowd and saw a young Jewish girl that I know,” Perry explained. “She was surrounded by her non Jewish friends, and they had all been singing along with the Christmas songs. And then Rabbi Romano started to sing some Chanukah songs and this little girl’s face lit up. She started singing along and so did her friends.”

That scene reminded Perry of the importance of the tradition she and her husband began.

Their family does not light the menorah every night. They give other Jewish families a chance, too. It is on a timer, and every day, a new bulb is inserted so others can participate.

“Over the past years five years, we’ve gone through so many instances of antisemitism. And of course, COVID. But on each night of Chanukah, we gather with neighbors,” Perry said. “Some of us know each other from synagogue, some of us don’t belong to synagogues, some people aren’t Jewish but want to come to experience our tradition. We all celebrate as a community.”

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Kevin Dauray

Kevin is Publisher's Assistant with The Zebra Press. He has been working for Alexandria's "Good News" newspaper since 2019. A graduate of George Mason University, he earned a bachelor's in English with a concentration in Creative Writing. He is an alumnus of T.C. Williams High School. Go Titans!

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