Chanukah celebration brings light and joy to Taos children

Rabbi Eliyahu Kaminetzky lights the Chanukah Menorah during a Festival of Lights celebration held Dec. 8 at the Taos Community Auditorium.

On Dec. 8, the Taos Community Auditorium opened its doors to Chanukah — a cele­bration of light and joy — spon­sored by the Chabad of Taos and the Taos Jewish community.

The event included art, music, traditional food, toys, and the lighting of the Menorah. “For me, Chanukah carries a strong connection with Judaism and my childhood,” said Rhonda Velkovitz, who attend­ed the event. “We used to have big family celebrations, from 50 to 100 people. Some of my cousins were musicians, actors and actresses, and we always had a lot of fun. We would get together and light the candles and it was such a big, wonder ful celebration. I particularly enjoy the Chanukah candles because they br ing light to our lives in the darkest days of the year.”

Art pieces by Jonathan Sobol, Bill Acheff, Barry Dinowitz and Anita Bauer were on display. Dinowitz’ abstract pastels are part of his shadow/light series. The contrast between light and shadow in his paintings can be linked to the Chanukah Menorah lighting ceremony and its symbolism of overcoming the darkness in the world.

The celebration began when Rabbi Eliyahu Kaminetzky lit the menorah while Nancy Laupheimer and Martha Grosman from the Taos Chamber Music Group played “Maoz Tzur,” the traditional Chanukah song. After a moving performance by Andy “Rosey” Hayett, director of the Woogaboo Foundation, the rabbi called Steve Natelson to talk about the history of Chanukah and why the holiday is celebrated. Chanukah commemorates the rededication of the Second Temple in Jerusalem at the time of the Maccabean Revolt, during the Second Century BCE, after a miraculous Jewish victory over the Seleucids, who sought to Hellenize the people of Israel. But what they really cel­ebrate, Natelson emphasized, is not only a military victory, but the fact that the oil in the temple, that was supposed to last for just one day (only one vial of unadulterated oil was left), instead bur ned for eight whole days, until new, pure oil could be prepared. In that sense, Chanukah celebrates the triumph of light over darkness, of purity over adulteration and of spirit over matter.

Chanukah customs include preparing foods fried in oil like latkes (traditional potato pan­cakes) and doughnuts, as well as giving presents to children. To highlight the impor tance of oil, an olive press was brought to the event. With children and adults gathered around them, David Hassan and Israel Bennish, visit­ing student rabbis, operated the press and offered the audience a hands-on exper ience on how olive oil is made.

As for the kids’ presents, a very important part of the cel­ebration was the toy drive launched by the Chabad of Taos. The collected toys were given to Frances Romero and Yolanda Valdez who were there representing the Head Start program. “We got hundreds of toys,” said Rabbi Kaminetzky, “and we chose to give them to the Head Start program because they had the highest number of registered low-income families in Taos.”

Nikki Ross was there rep­resenting Twirl. The store also donated toys for the event, and Ross helped children make Stars of David as part of the project. “Chanukah is a Festival of Lights, which means that it is centered on spreading positive feelings and joy in the commu­­nity,” said Rabbi Kaminetzky. “That’s what we are doing here tonight. We want to thank every­one who contr ibuted to the toy drive, particularly the Gearing Up Bicycle Shop, that donated a $400 bicycle for the raffle.” While waiting for the raffle to take place, people sampled latkes prepared by the rab­bi’s wife or talked about past Chanukah celebrations.

“I remembered Martha Schlamme’s songs being played during Chanukah,” said Lucy Melamed. “The whole house would come alive with music and we danced for hours. This event is very special for me not only because it brings back many good memories but because it allows us to interact as a community and get to know each other better.”

The Jewish community in Taos, said the rabbi, con­sists of around 3,000 people.

“Celebrating Chanukah is also part of my identity,” said Melamed. “I would have never missed it.”

To contact Chabad of Taos, visit the website or call (575) 751-1323.