By C.S. Gilbert

Daniel and Crystal Kantor, from Ponte Vedra in mainland Florida, were married on Smathers Beach at sunset last night. After the final vows the young couple, he a neurologist, she a social work administrator, jumped in a cab and took off toward town—not to the Casa Marina, where they were staying, not to the romantic dinner at Hot Tin Roof for which they had reservations, but to Congregation B’nai Zion, to take part in the lighting of the menorah for the first night of Hanukkah.

It was almost full dark, and Rabbi Shimon Dudai and a small crowd of members and friends of B’nai Zion were delaying the ceremony just a few minutes to see if more folks would arrive. The word had just gone out to gather around the giant menorah, or ritual candelabra, mounted and decorated with strings of lights on the United Street synagogue’s front plaza.

A cab pulled up and out came the bride and groom, he in a tux, she in a slim, formal gown of white silk embroidered with crystal beads and possibly baby pearls. “Are we in time?” they asked.

“You are absolutely, perfectly on time!” was the welcoming reply.

Quickly, the ceremony began: the lighting and blessing of the first candle, of the holiday, of the happy occasion, sung by all who knew the words, which was almost everyone. After the final “Amen,” attention turned to the Kantors.

They had vacationed in Key West for years, they said, and decided they wanted to be married here. And despite the formal dress, it had been only the two of them. The groom’s sister, who is Orthodox, recommended that they go to the Chabad for the Hanukkah candle-lighting, but they felt they would be more comfortable at B’nai Zion. “We’re going to call my parents in Jerusalem,” reported the groom.

In fact the local synagogue’s ritual could be described as Conservadox—midway between the most observant denomination, the Orthodox, and the “middle-of-the-road” one, the Conservative—but, this being Key West, they are tolerant of diversity, welcoming of visitors and nonjudgmental of a wide range of personal and political beliefs and lifestyles. Converts are embraced and intermarried families are accepted without prejudice—except for one historic lapse, during the tenure of another rabbi, which some synagogue leaders still regret.

The newlyweds transformed the first night of Hanukkah into a special celebration. As the crowd slowly dispersed, it seemed as if everyone were smiling.

The celebration continues Saturday night at 6 p.m. as the congregation hosts its annual Hanukkah party, which for more years than most can remember has been coordinated by Alan Solomon, featuring a full dinner and Rebetzen Nadia Dudai’s latkes. Folks are invited to bring their own family menorahs for the candle-lighting.

All are invited, but reservations are advised. To register your attendance, or for more information, phone Solomon at (305) 849-9001.