Burlington County Times - Chanukah 16

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Medford event educates children about the Jewish holiday




The joyful sound last Sunday at the Chabad of Medford was that of children's laughter.

A Hanukkah celebration was being held that had youngsters exploring some of the symbols of the holiday, and creating their own treats, works of art and ultimately, their connection to the holiday that begins this year at sundown on Saturday.

The Chabad of Medford, a recently renovated building, is a local headquarters for what is estimated to be the fastest-growing movement in Judaism.

For 3-year-old Zachary Webster, who was accompanied by his grandparents. Deena and Michael Taylor, of Tabernacle, the issue was how to create — and eat — a holiday sweet called "suganiot," a jelly doughnut-like pastry fried in oil. Zachary was nothing if not determined, and the reward was clearly sweet indeed.

Seven-year-old Jessica Clark, of Lumberton, was delighted with the dreidel, a top-like toy she had created, and loved the way it spun. Her parents and grandfather delighted in her delight.

Throughout the Chabad, the joy of the holiday was evident, and that was what Rabbi Yitzchok Kahan was looking for.

"This is a wonderful holiday, a true chance to celebrate so many things that matter," said the rabbi, who has dedicated himself to making Judaism come alive to local Jewish families, including those may have lapsed — or never have embraced — the religion, as well as for those who celebrate it in their lives.

The South Jersey region has shown a growing acceptance of the Chabad concept and its presence, first in Cherry Hill, and now in Medford.

With roots in Eastern Europe, the movement was founded in the late 18th century and was based in the Russian town of Lyubavichi. Wisdom, comprehension and knowledge are its pivotal and enduring goals.

But last Sunday, the goal was also to educate children about the winter holiday of Hanukkah, and to dazzle them with a demonstration of how olive oil is made.

Oil itself, as Kahan explained to the day's participants, is at the very heart of this holiday that celebrates the re-dedication of the Second Temple in Jerusalem by the Maccabees centuries ago after the temple had been desecrated by the Syrians. The miracle was that oil that had been expected to last one day lasted instead for eight.

Another joy of the holiday is the preparation and enjoyment of potato latkes, little flat pancakes fried in oil. 

"Hanukkah has so many lessons," the rabbi said, "and the oil part teaches us that when we produce some light into this world, it can miraculously last longer than we ever imagined."

But the rabbi did more than explain the light/oil metaphor. He also demonstrated, to the delight of children helpers, that in order to be pure, olive oil needs to be prepared in a process that begins with picking of olives off a tree, pitting them, pressing them and extracting the oil with a centrifuge.

By demonstrating the process (minus the picking from an olive tree), the rabbi showed a rapt audience how meaningful this holiday truly is.

What added to the merriment and learning was Kahan's gift with children. Throughout the day, that included games and hands-on art projects. He enchanted young and older with his humor, slights of hand and true dedication to learning.

Kahan and his wife, Baily, are the parents of five sons and one daughter, Sarah, 2.

"This is a holiday that kids all love, and one that also carries this message: sometimes, we need to squeeze and press ourselves, just as we do with the olives that give us the gift of olive oil," he said.

And as the sun was setting on the Hanukkah Wonderland at the Chabad in Medford, the day also was a reminder that even a bit of light can take away an abundance of darkness.

The metaphor, Kahan said, was that if we increase doing good each day, just as we add a Hanukkah candle each night, we increase good and make the world better.

And most of all, the rabbi emphasized, the holiday reminds us "to make this world a better and brighter place for us all."

For other celebrations associated with Hanukkah, visit