Chanukah Concert Brings Joy of Festival of Lights to Malibu

Rabbi Judith HaLevy and Cantor Marcelo Gindlin lead the crowd in song.

The Malibu Jewish Center and Synagogue was alive in spirit and song Friday evening with its 17th annual community Chanukah concert. About 200 people filled the main synagogue for a joyous night to celebrate the Jewish holiday in song, dance, candle lighting and traditional music with a twist.

This year, the popular community concert tried something a bit different. After an opening musical number in “klezmer” style (traditional music from Jews in Eastern Europe), the nine-piece band played well-known Chanukah songs reorchestrated in Big Band style. The audience was in a spirited mood and seemed to love the new songs and the old that ran the gamut from a soulful, traditional “Rock of Ages” to the comedic Tom Lehrer song “I’m Spending Chanukah in Santa Monica.”

Cantor Marcelo Gindlin ,who leads the concert, has been preparing for more than two months to make sure every group at MJCS could perform. Along with a 12-person choir, one of the highlights of the evening was a song performed by Hand in Hand, the group of young adults with special needs and their peers who meet at the center on Thursdays. MJCS preschoolers who dressed as candles while singing also charmed the enthusiastic audience.

Each year, Cantor Gindlin also brings in a magician from 

the Magic Castle in Hollywood. This year, Yonkany El Mago delighted the crowd and had the youngsters in rapt attention with magic tricks that included levitating a glass and producing a dog and duck out of thin air.

The annual Chanukah concert started out humbly 16 years ago when Cantor Gindlin first came to Malibu from Argentina. 

“We didn’t have our own building then. We were in the little synagogue with about 20 people, but I had big dreams,” Gindlin recalled. “Then it grew and grew and grew. Why? Because of the need of people to find, through music, warmth and light. We want to bring the spirit of Chanukah to light up the lives of people — to ignite their lives because many people are going through ups and downs and in the winter, for some reason, people often get more introspective and some people get depressed. Some people get lonely in times when there are so many holidays. So this is an opportunity to bring love and friendship and share music.”

Another highlight of the evening was when the kids from the Hebrew school paid tribute to Rabbi Judith HaLevy for her dedication to MJCS and to the Malibu community. HaLevy is retiring in 2017 after 20 years of service leading the synagogue. The children sang “Hey Jude” with the lyrics changed to show their appreciation to the beloved rabbi.

“This is such a wonderful event because everyone in the community can participate,” HaLevy told The Malibu Times. “There are ages in here from the smallest in preschool to a woman, Sylvia, who’s about to complete 100. When I told Sylvia how happy I am to see her here, she said, ‘It’s a miracle’ — another miracle of Chanukah. The Cantor is so amazing. He pulls all the community together and it’s something that we just open and offer. It’s our light to the entire town — to all of Malibu.”

This year, which is not always the case, the first night of Chanukah falls on Christmas Eve. The Jewish holiday is celebrated for eight nights and is also called the Festival of Lights. Chanukah commemorates the rededication of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem at the time of the Maccabean Revolt in the 2nd century BCE. Candles are lit for eight nights in celebration of the oil that is said to have lasted eight nights providing light in the temple. Traditionally, for the holiday, Jews eat food fried in oil such as potato pancakes or “latkes” or donuts that were served Friday evening.

“Chanukah is about light and sharing light and it always comes at a time when physically it’s dark and the sparks of light against the darkness — it’s always filled with miracles,” Rabbi Judith explained, “So we’re wishing that for everyone. We wish everybody a great holiday season.”