Columbia's Jewish community gathers for Hanukkah

Sunday, December 21, 2008 | 9:31 p.m. CST; updated 9:43 p.m. CST, Sunday, December 21, 2008
Kelly Durante helps her daughter Gianna, 6, light the first candle on the menorah at Congregation Beth Shalom on Dec. 21. Nearly 100 people celebrated the first night of the eight day holiday at the congregation.

COLUMBIA — Raucous tables of children  talked loudly while some parents struggled to light menorahs on Sunday at Congregation Beth Shalom. Some held balloon animals and candy. Others ate lollipops and potato pancakes, or latkes.

Rabbi Yossi Feintuch stood at the front of the room and spoke above the chatter, which slowly died down to a still quiet. He spoke about the history of the Jewish people, their struggle and the meaning behind their celebrations at Hanukkah. He then began to recite the traditional blessing for this time of year.

Tables of families joined in unison and finished the blessing by singing in Hebrew to celebrate the first night of Hanukkah.

“This is one of the synagogue’s more family-related events of the year, since most others are adult-oriented fundraisers,” event coordinator Mandy Llewellyn said.

Llewellyn said the congregation expected more than 100 guests to take part in the celebration which included the blessing and communal menorah lighting as well as  a magic show, dreidel walk and balloon animals for children.

Ben Puttler has been coming to Beth Shalom for many years to celebrate Hanukkah.

“It’s mostly for kids, but it’s a joyous occasion to be with friends and family,” Puttler said.

The children were retold the story of Hanukkah during the magic show where, when they said the magic phrase “Happy Hanukkah,” more oil would appear for each night. The performance also told them about how to play the dreidel and coins magically appeared.

Feintuch said Hanukkah is a simple, home-centered holiday that provides Jewish parents who are overrun with Christmas celebrations a way to counter that with Hanukkah observance.

Gail Bank has been making balloon animals for five years in the congregation. He comes each year to remember Hanukkah's history.

“It celebrates the opposition of the Jewish people between the armies of Greece who wanted to get rid of their religion. It’s a recognition of the importance that goes back thousands of years,” Bank said.

Hanukkah, which means dedication, is the Jewish festival of lights, celebrating the Maccabees defeat over the Syrians, who were under the control of the Greeks at the time. The celebration commemorates the rededication of the Jewish temple in Jerusalem after it had been defiled for three years, Feintuch said.

The Maccabees entered the temple to re-light the menorah but only found enough oil for it to burn for one day. A fresh supply was eight days away. But, Jews believe, a miracle allowed the oil to last for all eight days allowing the oil to be replenished, he said.

View a photo gallery of the Hanukkah celebration.

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