August 18, 2019

Nachshon Minyan Gets Into the Hanukkah Spirit

“No Fortnite dances and no flossing!” joked one of the young adults running the Nachshon Minyan Hanukkah Celebration’s dreidel game table, where half a dozen tween boys were going head to head. Although, judging by the little gold and silver foil discs that littered the table, they were more interested in eating the gelt than gambling with it.

The boys were among some 150 congregants who turned out for the annual event on Nov. 30 at the San Fernando Valley Arts & Cultural Center in Tarzana, about half of them kids.

Louis Lovit, 81, who was there with his wife and a family friend, had no argument with the makeup of the crowd. “I think it’s a kids’ holiday,” said the Calabasas resident who studies Torah with Nachshon Minyan’s Rabbi Judy Greenfeld. In fact, for him, the best part of the holiday is being around all the kids — on this night with the youngest members of the nondenominational San Fernando Valley congregation, and another night soon with his grandchildren.

“I mean look,” said Lovit, lifting the handmade, laminated placemat on the table before him. There was a different one at every seat, each made by a child in Nachshon’s religious school. This one happened to feature a colorful collage menorah. Lovit flipped it over to reveal the name “Harrison” on the back, scrawled in marker along with a happy face.

“It’s beautiful,” he said. “And Harrison’s happy.”

In addition to the dreidel game, there was plenty of activity at tables where kids were decorating their own wooden dreidels and frosting dreidel- and Jewish-star-shaped sugar cookies. Grown-ups had activities to indulge in too, including a raffle and a small boutique where they could buy Hanukkah gifts, ranging from animal-print sweaters to chocolate bark that a bat mitzvah student had made and was selling to benefit breast cancer research for her mitzvah project.

After a dinner of latkes with applesauce and sour cream as well as jelly doughnuts, a dozen kids took the stage to sing traditional and not-so-traditional Hanukkah songs. “I’m Spending Hanukkah in Santa Monica,” Tom Lehrer’s catchy ditty featuring lyrics such as, “Amid the California flora I’ll be lighting my menorah,” was a crowd favorite.

“Stay positive. Be grateful for whatever you get. Just focus on spending time with your friends and family.” — Sophia Goldstein, 9

Amid the party atmosphere, Greenfeld wanted to give congregants something to think about in the coming days, beyond presents, brisket and stuff. So before the evening wrapped up, she shared a story.

There once was a student. And the student said to the rabbi, “What is a Jewish person’s mission in the world?” And the rabbi said, “A Jew is to be a lamplighter on the streets of the world.” 

The student said, “Rabbi, I don’t see any lamps.”
And the rabbi said, “Well, that’s because you are not yet a lamplighter.”
“Well, how does one become a Lamplighter?”
The rabbi’s response?
“One must first begin with oneself.”

Greenfeld proceeded to explain the job of lamplighters in 19th-century London: lighting the gas street lamps so residents could venture out after dark unafraid. And she likened the shamash to these lamplighters. 

“I ask us all to be Jewish lamplighters this year,” Greenfeld said. “See where you can bring light into the world.”

And how to do this?

“A mitzvah is a lamp,” Greenfeld said. “When you see a person who has faults and you accept them and you draw them in, and you rejoice in the miracle of being alive; well, then you can see all kinds of lamps and all kinds of possibilities. … A Jewish person puts their selfish needs aside and goes around and lights up the souls of others with the light of what they learn from the Torah and from the people around them.”

The focus on people was not lost on even the youngest congregants. “I do love the presents,” said Sophia Goldstein, 9, of Sherman Oaks. But she said if she were given a choice between presents and spending time with her family, she would definitely choose the latter. “That’s what’s really important,” she said.

“Stay positive,” she added. “Be grateful for whatever you get. Just focus on spending time with your friends and family.”