Celebrating Hanukkah: Beth Sholom enjoys festive event in Dover

Elli Ayervais shows her Menorah at the Hanukkah Auction and Party of the Congregation Beth Sholom. Special to the Delaware State News/Ariane Mueller

DOVER — Hanukkah, the eight-night Jewish “Festival of Lights,” is officially here.

It’s that time of year to light the menorah and have some fun in an understated way.

That’s the expectation of Herb Konowitz, a member of the Congregation Beth Sholom for five-and-a-half decades.

“It’s a minor holiday, not a major one like Christmas,” he said.

“It’s very festive, joyous, lots of singing and eating food made in oil. The kids love it and it’s just a nice, fun time.”

David Udoff, Seaside Jewish Community Board of Directors secretary, said “It is my favorite holiday and I think a lot of people would say the same.”

At Beth Sholom in Dover Sunday, the 65-family member congregation gathered at 340 N. Queen St. for a party, which included lighting a menorah and having a silent auction and latke contest.

Traditional potato latkes, apple sauce and sour cream, beverages and desserts were on the menu.

“There’s lots to eat — there’s always plenty to eat,” Mr. Konowitz said with a chuckle.

That’s quite a contrast from the 25-hour fast coming with Yom Kippur’s Day of Atonement or avoiding leavened bread during Passover, Mr. Udoff said.

About 30 attendees were expected for the Seaide Jewish Community’s planned celebration at 18970 Holland Glade Road in Rehoboth Beach. It was BYO(M) according to the synagogue’s online announcement — bring your own Menorah.

From left, Jacob, 11, Mattea, 9, Samara and Davin, 5, Kaminski have fun at the $1 item table.

Mostly, however, the 652 members from 400 households will celebrate on their own this week.

“It’s a nice, low-key, intimate holiday when people tend to gather with family if they can,” said Mr. Udoff, who also referenced his affinity for latkes and jelly donuts.

“It’s not a high holy day that involves an entire community gathering in one spot.”

Celebrate, light candles

Mr. Udoff said the holiday has changed as he’s aged.

“My greatest memories of Hanukkah growing up involved lighting candles and getting presents from my parents, but as I’ve gotten older — I’m 45 now — I think the value of Hanukkah for me is just knowing that I have a place where I can light candles and celebrate with other people, whether that’s at home, with extended family, or with fellow Jewish friends of mine,” he said.

A New York native and Washington D.C. resident for many years, Mr. Udoff said “finding other Jews to congregate with was never an issue.”

After living in the First State for more than seven years, the Magnolia resident has realized, “Here in Delaware, especially further downstate, it’s a little different.

“I know of no one in my town or the immediate surrounding area that’s Jewish, other than this one couple of fellow Seaside congregants that happen to live close by. And because of that I am now more aware than ever of my status as a religious minority in America …

“So, finding Seaside and having that community, that go-to place where I can celebrate and practice Judaism in some form or another, not just for Hanukkah but for any and all occasions, is a very meaningful thing to me.”

Linda Roberts Mensh lights the second candle of the Menorah.

The Hebrew translation for Hanukkah (also spelled as Hanukka, Chanukah, or Chanukkah) is “dedication.”

According to Bob Kalinowski of the Citizens’ Voice newspaper in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, Hanukkah celebrates the successful revolution of the ancient Jews against oppressive rulers who had threatened to wipe out Jewish religious practices.

Growing synagogues

In Dover, there’s a vibrant feel among Delaware’s only conservative synagogue south of Newark, Mr. Konowitz said.

“It’s growing — a lot of people have moved in from New York, New Jersey, Maryland and they’re searching for a congregation,” Mr. Konowitz said.

“They can read Hebrew, understand the services and ritual that goes with it and they like to take part in that.

“They’ve taken board positions and I couldn’t be happier with their contributions. The influx of what they have brought has been quite frankly amazing.”

Seaside Jewish Community will hold a groundbreaking for its $1.25 million synagogue expansion project on Jan. 5. The project is anticipated to be complete in the third quarter of 2020 and “will double the size of the sanctuary, classrooms and social areas, improve accessibility, update the kitchen, and add new security, video and communication systems,” according to a news release.

Reach staff writer Craig Anderson at canderson@newszap.com