The Feast of Dedication took on a deeper meaning Sunday for those who gathered for Beth El Congregation’s Hanukkah Festival at the Shaw Jewish Community Center.
The festival highlighted significant parts of the Hanukkah story with the dedication of the cornerstone of the congregation’s new chapel and the lighting of the congregation’s Menorah for the first time in its newly refurbished sanctuary.
“This is like a miracle for us. A year ago, we never thought we would be at this place. We were fortunate enough to sell our building to a school that is now using it to educate young people and we are here, ready to build our new chapel and find new ways to collaborate with the JCC,” said Rabbi Stephen Grundfast, after the dedication of the chapel's cornerstone, which is made of Ohio sandstone. The chapel, endowed by the Victor Gross family, will be built using the same stone, which is quarried in Ohio.
Beth El moved from its west Akron location on South Hawkins Avenue in July (after selling its building to Summit Academy) and moved to the Jewish Community Center, where the congregation plans to build a new chapel and family gathering space. The construction project, which is expected to be completed in eight months, is the second phase of the congregation’s million dollar plan for its new home at 750 White Pond Drive.
The first phase included the remodeling of space in the community center’s conference room and auditorium for worship space. The refurbished sanctuary was completed in September, just days before the congregation gathered for the Jewish New Year (Rosh Hashanah).
“Our theme for the year is ‘A Year of Blessings’ because we are so grateful that we could sell our building to a wonderful school. We are grateful for the leaders in the Jewish community who have been so supportive in our move. We are grateful for the people at the community center who have welcomed us into our new home and we’re grateful for the hundreds of people who have shown up to support us and donated to make this project happen,” said Bonnie Cohen, who organized an art project on Sunday that allowed participants to create handmade clay tiles for the synagogue’s Wall of Blessings.
The Wall of Blessings honors everyone who made a donation to Beth El’s building project. The 4-foot-by-10-foot mosaic, designed by Cohen (an award-winning Judaic artist) will include the tiles and recycled glass.
It will be located at the synagogue’s entryway.
A second art project gave the more than 100 people who gathered for the festival an opportunity to create tiles for the synagogue's family gathering area.
Elia Meltzer, 12, worked diligently to decorate a tile with clouds and water.
“When I looked at some of the sample tiles, I was inspired by the water. I decided to make some clouds and create a scene of sunrise and sunset,” said Elia, of Akron. “It's exciting to know that this tile will tie me to the new synagogue building.”
In addition to the art projects, festival-goers wrote and decorated personal blessings to take home and give as gifts for the remaining nights of the holiday.
When the art projects were finished, participants were treated to dinner — an eight-foot sub sandwich in the shape of a Menorah and latkes (potato pancakes fried in oil), a traditional Jewish food served during Hanukkah.
Hanukkah, which means dedication, began at sundown Saturday and is observed for eight nights. It commemorates the religious and military triumphs of ancient Jewish heroes. By lighting candles for eight nights, beginning every year on the 25th of Kislev, Jews celebrate the rededication of the Holy Temple and the miracle of a small amount of the oil lasting for eight days.
Although it is a minor holiday in the Jewish year, its proximity to Christmas draws greater attention to it.
The holiday includes a tradition of gift-giving, blessings, games and festive foods cooked in oil.
The annual public lighting of a giant “Canorah” — a menorah made from canned foods — is at 6:30 p.m. today in front of Dillard's at Summit Mall. The public celebration is a project of Chabad of Akron-Canton and Anshe Sfard Synagogue.
The canned goods will be donated to the Akron-Canton Regional Foodbank.
Colette Jenkins can be reached at 330-996-3731 or firstname.lastname@example.org