Couple go all-out with Hanukkah lights on home

The living room of the Weinsteins' home is covered with Hanukkah decorations, just like the rest of the house. (David M Warren / Staff Photographer)
The living room of the Weinsteins' home is covered with Hanukkah decorations, just like the rest of the house. (David M Warren / Staff Photographer)
Posted: December 10, 2012

'You shouldn't have trouble finding the house - it's pretty noticeable," Flo Weinstein tells a potential visitor, in a classic case of understatement.

Indeed, the Weinstein house in Mount Laurel is visible from a distance. It's aglow with lights, mostly blue, outlining the house, trees, and shrubs, and a huge sign reads, "Happy Hanukkah."

The first reaction, typically, is, "Wow!"

Flo and her husband, Robert Weinstein, are not given to understatement during this season. They are exuberant in their displays, both indoors and out, and just as passionate in their feelings about the holiday, which celebrates the Jewish miracle of rededicating the ancient Temple in Jerusalem following victory over the Syrians in 165 B.C.

For Flo, that miracle, all these centuries later, is deeply personal. Her mother and now-deceased father both were Holocaust survivors, and the awareness and impact of that family history is always with her.

"My two sisters and I alternate holidays throughout the year, and I claimed Hanukkah a few years ago," explains Flo, who also is the family's Martha Stewart. "I love decorating the house, and finding or making things that are special and beautiful, or just plain fun."

When Bob and Flo, both previously married, joined their lives in 1998, Bob had some adjusting to do.

"My family was not nearly as observant as Flo's, and we didn't make a huge fuss about Hanukkah," says the 67-year-old physician, who has happily adapted - and been "adopted" by Flo's clan.

"Now I'm just one of the gang," he says good-naturedly.

And yes, he even dresses up in the Hanukkah vest with Hebrew symbols that Flo made for him, to coordinate with her own similarly adorned outfit.

The Weinsteins' elegant two-story dwelling was customized with an open floor plan once it was agreed that South Jersey was where they would settle together. (After years of commuting between Bob's Philadelphia home and office, and given Flo's deep family roots in South Jersey, Mount Laurel was the winning location.)

Step inside their house during Hanukkah season, and you experience an initial case of delightful sensory overload.

A burst of blue and silver streamers hangs from an entry wall, and a life-sized cutout of Flo and Bob in their Hanukkah gear is part of the greeting. The staircase is festooned with garlands of tiny Stars of David.

Just ahead is the hub of the home, a large kitchen/family room where daily life changes before and during Hanukkah. The culminating event is a joyous family party that has morphed, this year, into a full-scale open house, now dubbed "Menorah Madness," during the last day of the Festival of Lights.

Guests are asked to dress according to various themes, all with a holiday tie-in, from pajama Hanukkahs to Hassidic and over-the-top rock star.

"I start planning weeks before," says Flo, 60.

A former teacher who retrained in psychotherapy and recently retired as an administrator for a mental-health facility, she also loves tending to every detail of the Hanukkah celebration.

The kitchen counter is "skirted" in a holiday drape, and replicas of potato latkes, the iconic food of the holiday, hang from light fixtures.

Tiny menorahs, the candleholders of Hanukkah, are found in other decorations. Dreidels, the spinning tops that are associated with the festival, can be found everywhere.

Even the family room's sectional sofa has Hanukkah-motif throw pillows and afghans.

"My wife changes the valances over the kitchen windows for Hanukkah," says Bob, who credits Flo with handling nearly every aspect of transforming the house for the holiday.

Admittedly, though, he gets involved with some of the wiring issues - the electrical system had to be redesigned, for example, to accommodate the glow.

But there is a serious underside to all this, one that coexists with the frivolity and fun.

On one wall in the family room is an arrangement of photos, many in black and white, tracing Flo's family history. In those images are the faces of hope: Flo's ancestors, including her now-88-year-old mother, Charlotte Weiss of Voorhees, as a younger woman.

They are testaments to the past - and to so much pain and ultimate loss.

Last summer, Flo and one of her sisters traveled back to the former Czechoslovakia to trace the path of her parents, and to see their world.

They also visited Auschwitz, the concentration camp where her mother was taken - and miraculously survived. It was, Flo says, a monumental and life-changing experience.

"So for us," she says, "Hanukkah is about that miracle of survival, and about children and grandchildren who are here to celebrate life itself."

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