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Grand Chanukah festival draws a crowd in The Woodlands

December 3, 2018

Residents from The Woodlands and beyond showed up to Market Street on Sunday, but some weren’t there just to shop. A few hundred people came out to celebrate the start of Hanukkah, the Jewish holiday of rededication.

This was the eighth annual “Grand Chanukah” celebration presented by Chabad of The Woodlands, with Rabbi Mendel Blecher officiating. Hanukkah’s purpose is to commemorate and publicize two historical Jewish miracles.

“It’s a communal event to spread the message of Hanukkah to the Jewish community and community at large. It gives participants a good dose of Jewish pride,” Blecher said.

This year, there was a slight difference. Due to the construction at Central Park in Market Street, the festival had to be moved to a side street instead.

Nevertheless, the 9-foot menorah, also called a candelabra, was set up and volunteers from the synagogue worked to arrange the festival activities for the 4:30 p.m. start time.

Before the ceremonial menorah lighting, entertainer and juggler Claude Sims, dressed in a jester-like outfit, captivated the children as he performed his tricks. Sims threw handkerchiefs and balls with the children before he broke out the tools of his trade — bowling pins, a unicycle, and small torches lit on fire.

While Sims threw his items up in the air and balanced on his one-wheeled cycle, other attendees perused the booths lining the block.

Attendees could purchase traditional foods eaten during the holiday such as jelly donuts or latkes, which are potato pancakes fried in oil. Children could partake in arts and crafts or make a Lego dreidel, and adults could enter to win a raffle basket.

A Hanukkah boutique was set up with menorahs and Jewish household goods for purchase. Elizabeth Leass, who attends Chabad of The Woodlands, was manning the boutique. She said she’s grateful to be part of the celebration.

“I love the symbolism of Hanukkah, with the light. We can all be light in our own community and in our own families,” Leass said.

Thomas and Janessa Welch, who also attend the synagogue, echoed the community aspect of the celebration.

“My daughter is the only Jewish person at her school, so here she realizes that she’s part of a larger community,” Janessa said of her daughter, Autumn.

After about an hour of mingling and enjoying the entertainment and booths, Blecher got everyone’s attention for the main event: lighting the menorah.

He told the history of the two miracles observed by the holiday, the first one being the victory of the Jewish people over oppressive foreign Greek forces. Though small in number, the Jewish forces, also called the Maccabees, were able to overpower the Greek armies and preserve their religion — a miracle, Blecher said.

The second miracle, he shared, came when the Jewish people were repairing the temple the Greek armies had destroyed. The people needed to find oil that met the ritual requirements to light the menorah, but discovered that the Greeks had popped every seal on the oil jars.

Yet, there was one jar that hadn’t been tainted. It was only enough oil to light the menorah for one night, but miraculously the oil kept burning for eight nights. Blecher said the light of that miracle symbolizes the power to dispel darkness.

“The soul of Judaism, the flame that is on the candle, cannot be stabbed. That cannot be gassed in a gas chamber and the inner strength of the Jewish people cannot be shot and killed by automatic weapons,” Blecher said.

In that way, Blecher implored the crowd to think about their actions, making sure they are good actions that release a positive effect into the world.

Bruce Rieser, a member of the Board of Directors of The Woodlands Township, first lit the center shamash candle, or candle of service that is used to then light the eight branches of the menorah.

Blecher torched the wick of the first candle of the candelabra and led the crowd in singing the three ceremonial blessings of the holiday. This year, Hanukkah is celebrated from Dec. 2 to 10. One candle is lit each night in remembrance of the miracles.

jane.stueckemann@chron.com

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