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Jewish students light up tradition

Peoria Hebrew Day School holds Hanukkah event

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

PEORIA - The next Jewish generation lit up tradition Monday for more than 100 people celebrating Hanukkah.

Peoria Hebrew Day School students prayed, sang and danced life into the eight-day Jewish festival for their parents and other community members at "A Freylekhn Khanike," Yiddish for "A Fun Hanukkah," at Congregations Anshai Emeth/Agudas Achim, 5614 N. University St.

Of course, after a 6-foot high Hanukkah menorah was lit with the help of political dignitaries and families lit their own menorahs, everybody got down to the serious business of eating kosher hot dogs as well as the more traditional holiday fare of potato latkes and sufganiyot, or fried jelly doughnuts.

After that, there were traditional Hanukkah songs sung by the school's 10 students as well as Israeli dance and games like "Spin the Dreidel" and "Latke Toss."

The holiday marks the recovery and rededication of the Jerusalem Temple by Jewish freedom fighters in 165 B.C. Each night of Hanukkah, which is Hebrew for "dedication," candles are lit on menorahs. An additional candle is lit every night until, on the eighth night, the entire menorah is ablaze.

On Monday, the fourth night, four candles were lit in addition to the shammash, or "helper" flame.

While students said presents are a popular component of Hanukkah, there are other things to cherish, such as "spending time with family," said fourth-grader Ashley Eggert, 9.

Ben Katz, home on break from the University of Illinois, combined food with family. Asked what he liked about Hanukkah, Katz said, "The family atmosphere created by making and eating latkes."

"Like most Jewish holidays, the food, the traditions serve as a constant backdrop to the more important meaning," said his father, Sheldon Katz, president of Agudas Achim. "Especially now with freedom and especially religious freedom being challenged all over the world."

Light is one of the essential meanings of Hanukkah, said Rabbi Eli Langsam, director of Lubavitch Chabad of Peoria.

"The message of Hanukkah is light over darkness," he said. "In this time when we see so much darkness, there is only one way to dispel the darkness. That is by kindling the light."

While Monday's party spotlighted the talents of Peoria Hebrew Day School's 10 students, it also brought together the efforts of several Jewish organizations in the area. That, said PHDS board president Paul Small, is how the small school keeps going.

"We have a lot of generous friends in town and, with the help of HaShem, the Lord, it keeps going," Small said.

Michelle Eggert, the school's director of advancement, said she thinks a new momentum is being built for PHDS and Peoria's Jewish community.

"The fact that the whole community came together is a clear message they want more togetherness," she said. "It's great for our kids to be able to showcase their hard work."

Michael Miller can be reached at 686-3106 or mmiller@pjstar.com.