Festival of Lights: Chanukah In the Valley

By Sara Vigneri

When I was a kid, I absolutely loved Chanukah. My excitement for the holiday started to build the moment my parents brought out the Menorahs from storage and set them up by the window. One year, my dad made jelly donuts from scratch and I almost lost my mind with happiness. For eight nights, I would eagerly anticipate the present I would receive. We would gather round the Menorah, sing songs, open gifts and eat candy. It was a perfect holiday for a kid.

But as I got older I started to resent the holiday. I would get frustrated whenever someone at work would ask me whether I was busy preparing for Chanukah because it is not a major holiday on the Jewish calendar. Two months prior, no one asked me how I was managing to prepare for the High Holy days, a series of celebrations that span a month and require lots of preparation including hosting of out of town guests, cooking opulent meals, buying new clothes for synagogue and missing seven days of work. I had to find time to make sweet desserts for Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year), cook meals for my kids while fasting for Yom Kippur, and build a Sukkah (tent) in my backyard to celebrate Sukkot – all while stressing about the work I was missing. Whereas for Chanukah, I don’t need to take off of work or host fancy meals. All I need to do is buy some candles and a few gifts for my children. Easy.

So the fuss that was made over this ‘easy’ holiday bothered me. It irritated me when stores would sell special Chanukah dishes for fancy meals I wasn’t going to serve. One year, I went to the store looking for the basic Chanukah necessity – Menorah candles – only to find they weren’t stocking them. They did have Chanukah decorations, Chanukah paper goods, Chanukah party favors, but no candles. I felt like the holiday lost its meaning.

But I am changing my tune this year. My bitterness about Chanukah over the years caused me to miss out on enjoying this simple and beautiful holiday. Amidst my regular chaotic workweek, I get a few minutes each night to stop what I am doing, light the Menorah, sing songs and enjoy the glow of the candles on a dark winter night with my family.

Across the valley (see schedule at end), Rabbi Yaakov Halperin of Chabad will be lighting a huge Menorah in the center of town to allow everyone to enjoy the simple beauty of lighting candles. “I started these events over 10 years ago to reach out to all of the Jewish people in the Lehigh Valley, regardless of background or affiliation,” says Rabbi Halperin. “Whether it’s the High Holy days or Chanukah, if these events impact at least one person, no matter where they are on their spiritual journey, then I consider it a success.”

And truly, Chanukah is still a great holiday for kids. At the Jewish Day School in Allentown, Principal Yossi Kastan emphasizes that while kids may be mainly excited about the gifts, the commercialization of the holiday is not necessarily a bad thing. “The commercialization helps spread the awareness of the holiday, which, in itself, is positive,” says Kastan. “But awareness is not enough for our kids. We must take that next step and teach our children about Chanukah because it is the key to ensuring that they grow up educated with the passion and knowledge to fully embrace, celebrate and observe the holiday.” The Jewish Day School will host a fun and educational Chanukah party for the students on December 10. And across the Lehigh Valley, various Jewish organizations are offering events to share the holiday with the community at large.

So this year I plan to focus on the lessons of Chanukah that are meaningful to me. And for me, Chanukah is about staying hopeful when times are bleak and believing that there is always a light, even in your darkest moments.

Events in the Lehigh Valley:

December 12  Brith Sholom in Bethlehem is hosting a Chanukah program for those 70 and older, including a deli lunch for $5. The program will feature Cantor Ellen Sussman of Congregation Shirat Shalom. For reservations call 610.866.8009.

December 12, 5:30 P.m. The Jewish Community Center in Allentown is hosting a Chanukah event for all ages with a Chanukah dinner, a community candle lighting and a children’s concert featuring Felicia Sloin. For information call 610.435.3571 or visit allentownjcc.org.

December 15, 7:30 p.m. The Youth Group of Sons of Israel in Allentown is hosting a Chanukah concert. For information contact 610.433.6089 or sonsofisrael.net.

Chabad of the Lehigh Valley, in Allentown is hosting the following events. For more information contact 610.351.6511 or chabadlehighvalley.com:

December 9, 2:00 p.m. Menorah-making workshop at the Home Depot in Allentown. This year’s program will also include an Olive Press Workshop where you can learn about the oil used to light the Menorah and the age old technique of olive oil pressing.

December 10, 5:00 p.m. Public Menorah lighting in front of the Crayola Factory in Easton.

December 11, 5:00 p.m. Public Menorah lighting in front of City Hall in Bethlehem.

December 12, 5:00 p.m. Public Menorah lighting at 7th and Hamilton Streets in Allentown.

December 14 Community Shabbat Dinner at Chabad, 4457 Crackersport Road in Allentown, $15 adult, $12 children under 12.

December 16, 4:30 p.m. Build a Menorah out of Legos at Bricks 4 Kidz in Center Valley, followed by Menorah lighting and a light dinner. $10 per family.

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