Novato Jewish center holds menorah lighting ceremony in Festival of Lights
 By Janis Mara | Dec 9 2012
Marin Independent Journal

Novato Mayor Pat Eklund carefully lifted a white candle and used its flame to light the shamash, or starter candle, in the nine-foot-long menorah as more than 200 people watched in rapt silence Sunday evening.

It was the first moment of ritual in a celebration of Hanukkah, the Jewish Festival of Lights, held in front of Whole Foods on De Long Avenue in Novato. The actual holiday began at sundown Saturday, but the Chabad Jewish Center of Novato event took place Sunday.

"It's wonderful to make history tonight. This is our first community celebration of Hanukkah," Eklund said afterward, holding a plate with one of the 400 latkes, or potato pancakes, supplied by Whole Foods, the event's co-sponsor. "All the religions represented in Novato create a more vibrant community." The event took place just blocks from the city's Christmas tree.

A band played spirited renditions of the Dreidel song, Henei Mah Tov and other favorites as four small children standing nearby at the front of the crowd nibbled on pink cotton candy and watched spellbound. The singers accompanied by one upright bass player and two guitarists were not a formal group, but "the Scott Warner family and friends," a band member said.

That family feeling was much in evidence in the crowd packed into the courtyard outside Whole Foods. "This brings back memories of my youth in Vienna," said 92-year-old Paula Ross of Fairfax, who was at the event with her daughter Cindy, also of Fairfax. As Rabbi Menachem Landa passed around candles to the group, Cindy lifted a slim blue candle and lit her mother's white one.

"Assyrian Greeks sought to Hellenize Israel 2,200 years ago," Landa told the audience. "They banned the study of the Torah and the rituals that are part of our faith.

"Judah Maccabee led a revolt and drove them out. When he and his men entered the temple and sought to light the menorah, there was only enough oil for one day. But it lasted eight days, and to celebrate the winning of the war, the sages instituted Hanukkah, the Festival of Lights," the rabbi said.

"We are excited that there is a large Jewish community in the city where we have lived for 26 years," said George Hagerty of Novato, who was at the event with his wife Pam and daughter Summer. Like many, Summer was wearing a necklace with a glowing menorah, which she bought at the event.

"It's nice that we finally have something in Novato," said Harriet Sette of Novato, referring to Novato's Chabad Jewish Center, which Landa founded.

"The rabbi officiated at my grandson Sage's bar mitzvah," said Barbara Jacobs of Novato. She was there with another family member, Charley, a tiny white poodle.

Mayor Eklund wasn't the only official at the event. Eric Lucan, Novato's mayor pro tem, was drawn into an impromptu dance with the rabbi and four other men. Michael Frank, the city manager, did the honors of lighting two candles on the menorah, one for Saturday and one for Sunday. One candle will be lit every day until all eight candles are lit.

Councilmembers Jeanne MacLeamy and Denise Athas were also in evidence, with Athas addressing the crowd at the rabbi's invitation.

After climbing an approximately 12-foot-tall scaffold that led to the menorah, wearing high-heeled boots, Athas told the crowd, "I now know what faith is all about."

Athas said, "Since he (the rabbi) and his family have come to Novato, there has been a true sense of community that continues to grow."

Gil Gross, another speaker, who currently hosts a weekday radio talk show on KKSF NewsTalk 910, simply said, "There have always been Jews in Novato, but we didn't have a community. Now we are together."




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