Giant Texas Lego menorah sets unofficial record


Texans like to claim that everything is bigger in their state.

And when it comes to Chanukah menorahs made of Legos, they appear to be correct. Congregation Ahavath Sholom – a Conservative synagogue in Fort Worth – recently combined almost 50,000 of the plastic toy bricks to create a functioning hanukkiah that’s more than 16 feet tall.

Rabbi Andrew Bloom, who came up with the idea this summer, told JTA the menorah sets an “unofficial world record.”

“We called the Guinness Book of World Records and they wanted $11,000 to come out and measure it,” Bloom said. “So we decided we’d be in the Google book of world records. We researched online and figured out that 16-feet, four-inches would be the tallest Lego menorah ever built.”

Bloom, who has led the 350-family congregation for four years, said he wanted a Chanukah project that “our entire community, from smallest child to oldest adult, could partake in, and what better way to do that than by doing it with Legos?”

After Mike Lavi, a structural engineer and son of Ahavath Sholom’s president, designed the menorah and the requisite number of bricks were collected —“People could bring in one Lego as long as it was the right size,” Bloom said — congregants began assembling the menorah’s base.

On Sunday, the last night of Chanukah, the menorah will get its moment in the spotlight: Fort Worth’s mayor, civic leaders and guests from a variety of houses of worship will attend an official dedication, during which all nine candles (most of them electric in order to avoid fire hazards) will be lit.

Soon after, however, the menorah will be taken apart. The Legos will then be donated to various charities serving children.

“It’s a great thing, because we live in a world where there’s a lot of darkness, and a tall hanukkiah will bring a lot of light,” Bloom said.

“Each member of our city, each member of our congregation is like one Lego: Without each one of us the Lego menorah can’t stand.”

Menorah vandalized in New York City park


A large menorah was found vandalized on the Upper East Side of Manhattan.

Police found the menorah on its side with one half broken into pieces Monday morning at Carl Shurz Park on 86th Street and East End Avenue, two blocks from the mayor’s official residence at Gracie Mansion. They believe it had been toppled over on both Saturday and Sunday nights.

“Incidents like this have no place here or anywhere,” New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said in a statement.

Congregation Kehilath Jeshurun and Chabad of the Upper East Side lit the menorah in a highly attended ceremony Sunday night. They plan to lead another lighting at 8 p.m. Monday.

“Last night we gathered to kindle the menorah, bringing light to the world, and this morning we found that we were met by an act of darkness,” Rabbi Elie Weistock of Kehilath Jeshurun said Monday. “But light always overcomes darkness, and tonight we plan to light the menorah again.”

The New York Police Department’s Hate Crimes Task Force is investigating the incident, WNBC in New York reported.

A different menorah was stolen from a Chabad-Lubavitch synagogue in Salt Lake City, Utah, over the weekend. It was found outside an alumni house at a nearby college.

The theft was not being investigated as a hate crime.

 

Rabbi Benny Zippel told The Associated Press that the perpetrators were likely just “bored souls” who did not mean to be anti-Semitic.

The Mouse Hawks Mezuzot


Looking for the perfect gift for that upcoming wedding or bat mitzvah? If you’re in the Anaheim area, you may want to check out Downtown Disney, the new shopping/dining/entertainment complex just outside Disneyland and the new California Adventure park. Make your way to the New Agey objets d’art store near the entrance (just follow the John Tesh music), turn to the right when you enter, and you’ll feel as if you were transported by Disney magic to an upscale temple gift shop. A glass case of doorpost-ready mezuzot is prominently displayed; a variety of menorahs and tzedekah boxes fill several shelves.

When I came upon the Judaica display, my first inclination was to look for Disney’s inevitable stamp.

Maybe Snow White and the seven dwarfs on the branches of a menorah, or Scrooge McDuck’s face on a tzedekah box. But no, these were straightforward, traditional-with-a-modern-twist religious/cultural items. More Westside than Fairfax, this was colorful, artisan-crafted, high-end merchandise with plenty of shelf appeal.

After looking things over, I hung back to watch the multinational tourists inspect the goods. Most seemed to register admiration and curiosity. One woman speculated that a tzedekah box was “Some sort of Jewish piggy bank.” Not exactly flattering, but a good guess nonetheless. The Asian American sales clerk did a reasonably good job of fielding the shoppers’ questions.

I must admit it was a little odd to see traditional Jewish items marketed alongside the aromatherapy candles and feng shui manuals. I suppose Disney figures some tourists are interested in a spirituality other than the type offered at the Haunted Mansion. I’m sure some vacationing shoppers will snatch up these items, if not for the spirituality factor, for the craftsmanship, or maybe just because the colors match their living room decor.

For me, getting a taste of different cultures has always been a big part of the Disneyland experience. I visited there often as a kid, and it was the first place I saw folks in traditional African dress, families speaking European languages, Orthodox men and boys in yarmulkes, Muslim women with faces covered. So maybe it’s appropriate that tourists bring a little bit of Judaica home to Kentucky or Korea, even if it does end up on a mantle between the mouse ears and the Sleeping Beauty’s Castle glitter globe.

It’s a small world, after all. The Mouse Hawks Mezuzot

That’s a Mezzuzah?


Late November and early December is Chanukah festival time in L.A. This weekend, no less than 30 artisans from all over the globe will converge on West L.A.’s Temple Isaiah for the Festival of Jewish Artisans, which celebrates its second decade this year. Making her first appearance at the annual event will be metal artist Aimée Golant – a young artist not much older than the Festival itself – who fashions mezuzot and menorahs in a quasi-abstract style.

Now based in San Francisco, Golant, 27, is actually a local girl who grew up in L.A.’s Carthay Circle. In her work, she not only draws on inspiration from her grandparents’ Polish heritage (grandpa is from Chmielnik, grandma is from Lodz), but from their history – the Beverlywood residents are Holocaust survivors. During the war, Golant’s grandfather, who had a reputation for working with his hands, was chosen to work at a Nazi office as a machinist, while her grandmother accompanied him, employed as a maid. Golant said that when her grandparents first saw her work, they couldn’t believe that the Holocaust had touched her life.

Golant, who attended San Francisco State, has always felt connected to her Jewishness. She went to Hebrew school as a youth and lived in Israel for two months when she was 15. At a Holocaust museum there, she saw concentration camp footage that she said moved her more than a “Schindler’s List” ever could. And she relishes the fact that her pieces can be something of an enigma.

“People who aren’t Jewish don’t have the foggiest idea what they are,” she said, “and Jews sometimes look at them and say, ‘That’s a mezuzah?'”

Since 1998, Golant has been working on her own, attending trade shows and selling her art wholesale to galleries, museum shops and museums. And her work will, quite literally, reach unprecedented heights with her “barbed wire mezuzah,” which was commissioned by the 1939 Club to be taken into space by an Israeli astronaut who wants to take along a symbol of the Holocaust.

The 20th Annual Festival of Jewish Artisans takes place Nov. 18-19. An opening concert, “Celebrate,” will feature Rev. Andrae Crouch and Cantor Evan Kent. For more information, call (310) 277-2772. Sample art can be viewed atwww.TempleIsaiah.com. Aimée Golant’s work can be seen at www.aimeegolant.com.