Celebrating the Festival of Lights

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The lights of Chanukah are twinkling all over Malibu, as the Jewish community celebrates the Festival of Lights Dec. 3 – 10 at Malibu Jewish Community Center & Synagogue.

The holiday of Chanukah commemorates the victory of a small band of Jews called the Macabbees over the Hellenistic armies of Syria and Rome in 168 BCE. The conquerors had desecrated the holy temple and forbidden the Jews to practice their faith. When the military force of the Jews prevailed, it was time to rededicate the temple, but there was only enough oil left for one day. The miracle was that the oil lasted for eight days while new oil was purified and the altar was restored. Therefore, we light candles for eight days, as we celebrate the power of a small amount of light in this time of seasonal darkness.

The annual MJC&S Latke Party and Chanukah Concert will be held Dec. 10, and all are invited to share the joy of the season with us. Latkes will be served at 6 p.m., followed by a Chanukah service and concert at 7:30 p.m. Cantor Shira Adler has prepared a program of Chanukah songs with the Adult and Youth Choir, and she will add her own special voice to a presentation of Lucas Richman’s Chanukah Festival Medley, which she is also performing at Valley Beth Shalom in Encino. Eight candles are lit on the final evening of Chanukah, and we will all join in sending our prayers and blessings out to all of Malibu on this special final Chanukah of the millennium.

All eight days of Chanukah have been a time of festivity for MJC&S. On the first night of Chanukah, MJC&S hosted more than 150 people in 10 homes for a “Shabbat/Chanukah” in the home, marking the essence of this family celebration. The event was coordinated by Tamar Freeman, our “Shabbat Queen.” On Sunday, the third grade participated in a family education day. Chanukah began early in our MJC&S Religious School. Third-grade teachers Karen Verham, Penni Seller and Tova Fagan began planning their focus holiday Chanukah Family Education Day in early November. Children read and sang in Hebrew the two candle blessings, as well as the “Shehehianu.” They practiced singing songs and told the story in bibliodrama, story or drawing. On Nov. 5, every single third grader –16 of them — had at least one parent with them to design and paint a ceramic latke platter for their family. The round or oval platters are being glazed for future use. Potatoes and onions were being grated, while eggs were whipped and oil was heating. There were latkes for everyone. Dreidels were spinning, as the game was played for buttons. Most of all, everyone learned that “not by might, and not by power, but by spirit alone,” all humanity can live in peace and religious freedom.

Every child learned Chanukah candle blessings, made crafts, played games, and celebrated holiday joy with all their senses. Before Thanksgiving, we were practicing Chanukah songs on Sunday mornings with Cantor Shira. On Tuesday, Chabad taught us how to press olive oil from olives. Confirmation discussions explored the deep moral values that Chanukah challenges us with every year. Each day, we light our chanukkiah as a school. Every child knows that 2164 years ago, “A Great Miracle Happened There.”

As part of our MJC&S intergenerational program, our preschool will be visiting the Jewish home for the Aging in Reseda. The children will be singing Chanukah songs along with our cantor and will be performing a Chanukah play. The preschoolers have made a beautiful Chanukah menorah and will be presenting it to the seniors as a gift.

Both the preschool and the religious school are coordinating with Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles to send special presents to children who are ill over the holidays. Gifts were donated by a toy company, Jakk’s Pacific, and the new toys will be wrapped by our students and sent with a special handmade card to more than 100 children this week. This program will continue with a pen-pal program between our students and the Children’s Hospital, so that an ongoing connection can be made throughout the year to children who could use a dose of care and attention. In this way, the light of Chanukah can continue to burn.

Please join us at MJC&S on Friday, at 6 p.m. for latkes (potato pancakes) and at 7:30 p.m. for a concert (no charge) to celebrate the joy of Chanukah.