Three lights from the darkness: Jewish congregation, guests carry on Hanukkah tradition

  • 4681557_web1_P1070520.jpg
  • 4681557_web1_P1070539.jpg
  • 4681557_web1_P1070550.jpg

KAILUA-KONA — As the sun set behind the ocean, members of the Kona Beth Shalom Congregation transformed Hale Halawai into a festival of lights in honor of the third night of Hanukkah.

ADVERTISING


KAILUA-KONA — As the sun set behind the ocean, members of the Kona Beth Shalom Congregation transformed Hale Halawai into a festival of lights in honor of the third night of Hanukkah.

The holiday celebrates the triumph of the Maccabee rebels, who reclaimed the Temple of Jerusalem and rededicated it to Jewish worship following 150 years of oppression under the dominion of Greek pagans.

Hanukkah, which means dedication, is a celebration of light, and thus is celebrated during the darkest period of the calendar year.

Vivienne Aronowitz — president of the Kona Beth Shalom Congregation, which centers its theology around a less traditional and more progressive, inclusive message — said the first night of Hanukkah coinciding with Christmas Eve made this year’s celebration particularly poignant in the context of the current state of the country and the world.

“There’s just been a lot happening this year, and we want to kindle the Hanukkah light together with the light of other faiths and also the inner light, which is the soul of all humanity, and set that light against the darkness,” she said.

Hanukkah’s spiritual significance, Aronowitz explained, is the search for hope even in the darkest of moments — a reminder that cruelty can never utterly triumph over kindness, over compassion.

Furthermore, it’s a statement hearkening to examples of hatred and violence through which the Jewish people, and their values, persevered.

It’s not one of the core four festival holidays of the faith, Yehudah (Woody) Plaut explained, but instead is more of a party. He summed it up with one specific idea.

“There’s a joke that people tell and it goes: They didn’t like us. They fought against us. We won. Let’s eat,” he said.

There was plenty of food to go around Monday evening at Hale Halawai as snowbirds, visitors and members of the congregation’s roughly 50 family units enjoyed traditional songs, Israeli dancing, a magic show, dreidel games and the lighting of the third candle on the menorah.

Plaut — a 14-year resident of the island and member of the congregation that entire time who described himself as an atheist Jew, something he said the faith allows — considers the value of Hanukkah to reside in the celebration’s communal nature.

“The reason I like it is that it brings the kids out locally, brings the Jewish community together, which isn’t incredibly frequent,” he said. “Judaism is defined as a community religion. You can’t really practice it by yourself.”

Plaut said for him, the nature of Judaism is best captured by the concept known in Hebrew as “Tikkun Olam,” which means “repair of the world.” During a holiday of remembrance and celebration, that’s what was most important for the gathering in Kona to reflect, he explained.

ADVERTISING


“Jews volunteer, do things to help the community,” Plaut said. “That’s just the way we live, believers or not.”

Email Max Dible at mdible@westhawaiitoday.com.