This article appeared in the Dec. 14, 2006 Jewish Advocate.
Tips for an especially festive Festival of Lights
By Susie Davidson
Light the multicolored Chanukah before the stately white Shabbas candles this year - the holiday begins next Friday night. That can only mean that Sunday will be a prime occasion to schmooze, dine and be festive.
“Twas the night before Christmas and all through the house, the children were kvetching, ‘There's no fun in our house! Our friends all have parties and decorate trees. But we're only Jewish, we want fun, too, if you please!’" begins Party411.com’s “Party Girl,” who says there is no Christmas Envy at her house. “Every night for eight days, a miracle occurs: the kids are good as chocolate covered in gold, or else they don't get their Chanukah gift du jour!” she says, before ladling out tips for successful eight-day, or one large party.
Send invitations out three to four weeks in advance, she says. The site offers personalized invites, wrapped candy bars and centerpieces. Party Girl advises setting a price limit on gifts people bring, and says to go ahead with the raffle, or for a lot of laughs, try a white elephant gift exchange of previously received, unwanted gifts.
She’s got more advice: Light a path with light stakes, use banners, blue and white balloons and Chanukah decorations, including large inflatable dreidels. Fill large dreidels with candy and attach to seating cards. At a synagogue, have a memorah at each candle, and hide a star under a plate which will determine who leads the prayer. Scatter chocolate gelt and Star oif David confetti. Tie blue napkins with gold and silver ribbon. Put together goodie bags with chocolate, gelt, Chanukah cookies, dreidels, candles and fancy molded stars.
As for the menu, 411 suggests latkes, and either a traditional Jewish meal or “pickies” like egg and tuna salad, dips and snacks. Play dreidel (the site contains several dreidel games) with pennies or candy as prizes (maybe have wrapped gifts they can purchase with them at the end), sing Chanukah songs, and play a Chanukah party music CD. Kids can do karaoke.
Other informative and fun ideas can be found at Partypop.com, where a party is described with families each bringing a menorah. “It is beautiful to see so many menorahs, each holding memories, and each glowing with warmth.” A candle recipe and assembling tips follow. Up to making a menorah? Trace both of your child’s hands onto blue construction paper, the site states, overlapping the thumbs to make the shamash in the middle. “Cut it out and glue it onto a piece of thick white paper. To make the flames, use a gold glitter crayon.” Write your child’s name and the date on back and add it to the family heirlooms or compare year to year to measure hand growth. Directions for making and hanging up a felt menorah follow.
Partythemeshop.com, apples4theteacher.com, kidspartyfun.com, partysupplieshut.com and many other sites have Chanukah Party ideas that include games, activities, party supplies, decorations, favors and invitations.
According to Aish HaTorah, essential items for a great Chanukah party are a menorah and candles, dreidels, song sheets for sing-a-longs (you can print them out from the aish.com web site), festive decorations, gifts to raffle, latkes, doughnuts (make sure to fry in low-cholesterol oil, they now caution), beverages (perhaps served in olive-oil bottles that you’ve saved all year), and, of course, words of Torah for inspiration.
Good, clean fun - as opposed to Michelle Collins’ theme parties, which she lists at her youcantmakeitup.blogspot. “[They] could either make or break the week my family likes to call ‘The Festival of Fights’,” she says. One is the “Star of David Schwimmer” Party, where you gather your closest friends in your large Soho-type loft, make lattes and just talk. For fun, she suggests, have a Rebbe show up and perform mock "60 Second Nuptuals" amongst you and your pals. “Married, Divorced, Married, Divorced, ad infinitum, just like our beloved TV Friends,” she says.
Too superficial? Try her "You Say Hanukkah, I Say Chanukah" Party, where one side dresses like Paul Begala and the other side Tucker Carlson, and the barbs fly, Crossfire style. “Because let's face it,” she says, “there is no definitive answer to the ‘How the #$* do you spell this ancient word?’ question.” And when a Jon Stewart shows up “to chastise you and your nebbishy friends for trivializing the pain our ancestors endured thousands of years ago,” things get worse. Collins’ “Wo-Menorah” Party? That’s when you and your closest gal pals trash talk all the cretins on JDate. “Then drown your single-life problems in heavily-fried fatty foods and calls to your Mother.”
At Collins’ "Latkes and Latkas" Party, everyone arrives “dressed as foreign garage-nic Latka from Taxi while eating tasty finger foods and looking around with wide-eyed enthusiasm.” This party, she says, is recommended for those over 40. Her "Gelt Trip" Party doles out chocolate gold coins at the door. “Everyone sits in a circle, and bets, coin by coin, on who had the worst, most traumatic childhood.” The winner gets to eat the pot, which is all the chocolate, and Collins says that this party could possibly be combined with the "Wo-Menorah“ gala.
If all the above involves too much planning, then check out some of the lively and upbeat local offerings.
On Dec. 10 at the Striar JCC, families can make colorful clay menorahs to take home, with Chanukah snacks, stories and songs part of the occasion. And at Whitney Place, 3 Vision Drive in Natick on Dec. 17, families will enjoy latkes, jelly donuts, and make oil-based art projects, to songs and stories. Both events, which run from 2-4 p.m., are presented by Creative Judaica Interfaith, a JCC program that, with the aid of professional educators, storytellers, artists and musicians, explains Jewish traditions to families with or without Judaic backgrounds. For information, call Josh Segal at 617-558-6444 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you’re single and looking, you might want to check out the North of Boston Jewish Singles Chanukah Party Potluck Supper on Saturday, Dec. 16 at 6 p.m., at a private home in Billerica. Traditional food like latkes as well as other goodies will be served. “Conversation, music and maybe even a game or two will be part of the evening,” said publicist Ann Ackerman. “And of course, since this is the second night of Chanukah, the candles will be lit.” Reservations are required; call Elaine at 978-663-4096.
Ackerman said that the group was started almost 20 years ago by three members of Temple Emanu-El in Andover. “Over the years it has gone through several reorganizations,” she said, “but its basic goal is providing opportunities for singles to meet and get together.“ Activities, which are constant and geared to the 40 + age range, include a monthly bagels and coffees schmooze at Temple Emanu-El and a restaurant “dine-around,” as well as cultural and social activities. Members, she said, come from a wide variety of professions and occupations and include widows and widowers, divorcees and never-marrieds.
For info on the Dec. 24 JBall, visit www.tjcboston.com. For this year’s Matzo Ball at Avalon, checkwww.matzoball.org.
On Sunday, December 10 from 10:45 a.m.-12:15 p.m., the Workman’s Circle will throw a Kumzitz, which is a discussion event held each Sunday, entitled “Chanukah: Beyond Candles and Presents” at 109 St. Paul St. #2, in Brookline. On the agenda, led by Boston WC Director and Shule Music Teacher Lisa Gallatin, will be the story of Chanukah, as well as songs, blessings, and recommendations for children’s books and alternative Chanukah traditions. Many attendees will move on to the annual sweatshop protest, from 1-2:30, location TBA. On Dec. 17 from 11:45 a.m.-1:45 p.m., the Workmen’s Circle Shule, a secular, progressive Sunday school for children aged 5-13 that teaches Yiddish culture and social justice-oriented Jewish history, is throwing a Chanukah party at the nearby Runkle School, 50 Druce St. in Brookline. All are welcome; contact Mitchell Silver email@example.com.
Most local gatherings will occur on Dec. 17. At 7:30 p.m., Temple Emmanuel hosts Hanukkah Happens XVII, a concert with the Zamir Chorale of Boston, with proceeds going to the American Friends of Magen David Adom, Israel’s National blood bank, and its national Emergency Medical and Disaster Relief service organization. A reception will follow. Call 617-558-8100 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Also on Dec. 17, from 4:30-7 p.m., Chabad of Lexington, at 9 Burlington St., holds a Chanukah Party for the family, with dinner and entertainment. Call 781-863-8656 or email@example.com. Shaloh House, at 50 Ethyl Way in Stoughton, brings back their gala Chanukah dinner on the 17th at 6 p.m., which will feature live music by the Shaloh House Rockers, the musical Grab Brothers, and a special magic show for the kids. Guests can also help light Shaloh’s giant Menorah at the nearby Shell station station (the menorah will be lit every night of Chanukah at 6 p.m., and at 3:30 p.m. on the two Fridays). On Thurs., Dec. 21, Shaloh will host another giant menorah lighting and Chanukah celebration at South Shore Plaza, on the ground floor by Chico’s and Filene’s Basement. For information, call 781-344-6334.
Havurat Shalom, located at 113 College Ave. in Somerville, is holding a Chanukah party with latkes, candle-lighting, music and more on the 17th as well, from 4-6 p.m. Bring your menorahs and whatever else moves you - it‘s a low-key, impromptu type of event. “Our Chanukah parties are small, since we're a small community,” said Heidi Friedman. “In the old days, when we were younger and more energetic, someone would make latkes during the party. These days we just buy them.” But last year, a couple brought homemade sufganiot. “Sometimes there's dancing, if someone brings a boom box and music,” said Friedman. People bring their chanukiot and we light them all at the same time and then sing Chanukah songs. Sometimes we play dreidel.” Call 617-623-3376.
And on the same day, child survivors of the Holocaust will gather at the home of Marika Barnett in Stow. The Chanukah party is an annual event, begun by child survivor Frieda Grayzel in the early 1980s, according to Barnett, who has hosted them for the past 15 years. “Is a cause behind it?” she asked. “Yes, the same cause that is behind all Jewish holidays: ‘they tried to kill us, we survived, let's eat!’"
On a serious note, she says that for many attendees, it is the first time they have lit a Chanukah candle since the Holocaust. “The last Chanukah candle I myself lit was in December, 1943,” she explained. “The following year, the Germans occupied Hungary.” Almost everyone brings a menorah with candles for a communal lighting. The group meets on the third Sunday of each month, and they keep it on that date for the Chanukah party (this year, it fits). “If Chanukah has ended, we light all eight candles,“ she says.
“I love these occasions,” she said. “The room glows with light.“ They usually sing a few songs and someone tells the story of Chanukah. “This also has been our opportunity to thank the members who are doing the work for the group: finances, editing the newsletter, finding homes for the meeting, etc.” she says.
As at all meetings, the group does potluck, but on this day, everyone brings a special dish. “I have also created my own tradition of serving hot wine at arrival,“ says Barnett. “Each year I alternate between Swedish glogg (red) and Hungarian ‘hot wine’ (white).” (This year it will be red.)
Barnett sends out invitations to former members, who often show up. She says that while the majority of attendees are current or former members, some child survivors who only come to the Chanukah party attend as well. “They don’t know too many people,“ she says, “and maybe they don’t want to join the group, but since they went through the same horrors as we did, for a few hours it feels good for them to belong.” Children come too, and although they prefer that they are 12 or older, Barnett says that every rule must have exceptions. “Ours is Max, the grandson of one member, who is about three or four. He is permanently on the list.”
For info, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Congregation Beth Elohim at 133 Prospect St. in Acton is hosting a Chanukah Celebration on the 17th from 4-6 p.m., with holiday music by a synagogue music leader, a performance by the Pumpernickel Puppets, hands-on crafts for children led by the Temple Youth Group, a Teen Art Contest, and gelt and dreidels for the children. The evening, which is free and open to members and non-members, will also include a pot luck dinner, a latke contest, desserts and drinks. Guests are asked to bring a Dairy Potluck Dish, and a plate of latkes if they would like to enter the contest. (Last names A-K bring a dairy appetizer or salad, L-Z’s bring dairy main dishes).
“We also invite everyone to bring their menorahs and we will have a group candle lighting,” said organizer Laura Kelmar, who put last year’s turnout at 160 attendees. She said they have had a latke judging contest for the past couple of years. “We have a children's contest and a grown up contest and we judge ‘Most like Grandma Used to Make’ and ‘Best Tasting’” There are two to three dozen entrants each year. “People bring their latkes already made, and we taste them as appetizers for the dinner,” she said. “It's very popular.”
RSVP by Dec 14 by contacting Kelmar at 978-266-2946, the synagogue at 978-263-3061, or email@example.com.
If you don't find yourself above, check the community event listings in this paper, ShalomBoston.com and CJP.org for other Chanukah parties!