Written by Karl Sonkin
Some Jewish families light candles in nine-branched candelabra called a menorah for the winter festival called Chanukah. Maybe some families use two menorahs, one for the adults, one for the kids.
But lighting candles in more than 200 menorahs?
“We call it ‘Flametacular’” says Ellen Bob, executive director of Palo Alto’s Congregation Etz Chayim. “It’s a flaming festival tradition for our community.”
This year there have been plenty of comical comments that Chanukah and Thanksgiving fall on the same days: the first of eight nights of the Jewish festival is the night before Thanksgiving. The time has been dubbed Thanksgivukkah or Chanukagiving. But Flametacular?
“We invite all the members of the congregation, and the community, to come in and light the candles at the same time on November 29th,” says Ellen Bob. “All you need is a menorah and a willingness to enjoy Etz Chayim’s Annual Chanukah gathering. Last year we had more than 200 menorahs ablaze.”
Etz Chayim is located at 4161 Alma in Palo Alto, between Charleston and San Antonio. “Flametacular” starts at 7:15 p.m. Friday, Nov. 29.
Chanukah is Hebrew for “dedication”, and it goes back to 165 BCE when the Jewish Maccabean forces defeated their Syrian occupiers and re-dedicated the temple the Syrians had destroyed. There was only enough oil to light the Eternal flame for one day but miraculously, it burned for 8 days, until a new supply arrived. Hence the 9-branched candelabra holder called a menorah.
“We light one candle per night. Friday, November 29th will be the third night. So each menorah will have 3 candles plus a single candle for lighting all the others,” said Ellen Bob, calculating mentally. “So maybe 800 candles all burning at once?”
“I like to make Jewish things impressive,” laughed Rabbi Ari Cartun, Spiritual Leader of Congregation Etz Chayim. “I think people will love looking out the floor-to-ceiling windows of the Sanctuary and see all those candles burning on the patio. After all, we call Chanukah “The Festival of Lights.”
Rabbi Cartun also points out Thanksgiving and Chanukah have a lot in common, too. The Pilgrims he says, wound up in America, after they were persecuted in England for being “too Judaistic,” or, observing a Sabbath. And the Hebrew word for “turkey” and “giving thanks” are the same.
However, the Congregation Etz Chayim “Flametacular” is low-key compared to Rabbi Cartun’s earlier celebrations of the Festival of Lights.“When I was the Rabbi at Stanford’s Hillel, we built a menorah out of plumbing parts and lit railroad flares on Chanukah,” he smiles. Now THAT’S Flametacular.
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