Hanukkah celebration lights up Malibu


The Jewish community of Malibu unites in celebratory events.

By Caroline Thomas/Special to The Malibu Times

Light overcomes darkness.

Hanukkah candles are illuminated at night’s falling to remind the world that people have the potential to create light where there is none-a welcome metaphor for people of all faiths.

This “Festival of Light” is celebrated in Malibu with two community events. On Sunday, Chabad of Malibu had its yearly menorah lighting ceremony, marking the first evening of Hanukkah, and the Malibu Jewish Center and Synagogue will hold its yearly gathering Friday night .

Chabad of Malibu began the eight-night celebration of light with a family festival at the Malibu Colony Shopping Center. Next to Santa’s vacant throne a giant menorah was erected and about 60 people came to participate in the traditions of Hanukkah

Children busily created menorahs and decorated dreidel cookies. Adults listened to traditional music and ate donuts and delicious latkes (potato pancakes). Chabad’s Rabbi Levi Cunin offered enthusiastic “shaloms” to passersby in hopes of promulgating the celebratory Judaic spirit.

“This has been a rough time for the world,” said Cunin, “and Hanukkah is about bringing light into the world. We’re helping people get into the feeling of it.”

The Chabad organization, which has 3,000 centers worldwide, opened in Malibu six years ago.

“Our place is into the spirituality of Judaism,” says Cunin. “The Chabad venue is geared toward all people and has a more loving view.”

Cunin says the center has about 200 people participating in its various family services.

Malibu resident and Chabad member Ron Stackler grew up attending a conservative synagogue in the suburbs of Chicago that he describes as “classic reform.”

“I found it unsatisfactory as I grew older,” said Stackler. “What I found nice about Chabad is they were open, gentle and patient.”

Stackler belongs to both Jewish centers in Malibu and says, “There is a healthy rivalry between them.”

Rabbi Judith HaLevy of the Malibu Jewish Center and Synagogue was in attendance at Chabad’s Sunday festival. She and Cunin say their camaraderie is exceptional.

“We have lunch together once a week,” they chimed.

The Malibu Jewish Center expects a standing-room-only crowd at its Friday night concert and celebration. HaLevy says they usually have 150 people attend the open event and strongly encourage people of all faiths to visit.

“People are looking for light in the darkness,” says HaLevy. “In the Judaic calendar this celebration falls when the nights are longest. This is a holiday that expands light.”

Hanukkah is the celebration of two miracles according to Judaic tradition: The victory of the Maccabees and the miracle of the oil that burned for eight days.

After Alexander the Great’s death, the Greek Empire began to break up. In the Syrian territories, King Antiochus began his oppressive rule until a group of Jewish rebels, called the Maccabees, defeated his army against all odds.

When the newly liberated Jews went to reclaim their heritage and light the lamps in the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, they discovered that their enemies had defiled their sacred oil. One pure jar was finally found and it miraculously kept the lamps lit for eight days.

Critics have questioned whether increased significance has been attributed to this relatively new Hebrew holiday (165 B.C.) in order to compete with the abundance of Christmas celebrations.

HaLevy believes, “It is a holiday that has been through many transitions. At different times in history, it has been of different importance, but it has been the ‘Festival of Light’ for 2,000 years now.”

Families will gather in homes during the week, and as is the tradition, eight candles will be lit (one each night) and traditional prayers will be recited. Fried foods like latkes and doughnuts will be eaten to commemorate the miracle of the oil. Dreidel-one of the oldest games in history-will be played and gelt (chocolate or real money) will change hands.

These traditions and remembering the miracles is what Hanukkah is all about, and as HaLevy says, “We could all use some miracles right now.”