Every year Congregation B’nai Chaim of Murrieta celebrates Hanukkah, but this year will be extra special according to spokesman Irv Michlin.
“There will be services and Hanukkah parties, and the entire community is invited,” Michlin said.
Congregation B’nai Chaim is well known for its openness to interfaith families and to those who are curious to learn more about the Jewish faith. The synagogue has a longstanding tradition of working with people of all faiths for the betterment of the local community.
The Hanukkah celebration begins with a Menorah Lighting at Murrieta’s Town Square Park. Complete with potato latkes and singing, Congregation B’nai Chaim has something for everyone this holiday season. Also known as the Festival of Lights, Congregation B’nai Chaim kicks off the holiday with the lighting of the menorah at Town Square Park in Murrieta Tuesday evening, Dec. 12 at 6 p.m. Services will be led by Rabbi Stephen Epstein.
The eight-day celebration of Hanukkah – a holiday commemorating the rededication of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem during the second century B.C., where according to legend, Jews had risen up against their Greek-Syrian oppressors in the Maccabean Revolt – isn’t just for those of Jewish descent, it’s open to the entire community.
“It’s the first night of Hanukkah, and we welcome everyone to come to Town Square Park, watch the menorah lighting and help us celebrate,” Michlin said. “We will be serving jelly doughnuts and potato latkes, which are potato pancakes that are traditional to the holiday.
“Fried foods signify the burning of the eternal flame for eight nights during the Maccabean Revolt, when there was only enough oil to keep the flame burning for one day – a true miracle,” Michlin said.
The eternal flame burns 24 hours a day, seven days a week and 365 days a year in every synagogue.
“Foods like latkes and doughnuts, fried in oil, are served as a reminder of the miracle,” Michlin said.
A Hanukkah party, preceded by a short service which is also open to the public, will be held 6 p.m. at the Synagogue Saturday, Dec. 16. Services will be led by Epstein.
“The party is a potluck, but latkes and doughnuts will also be served,” Brenda Fusco, one of the leaders of the Lamad Academy, the synagogue’s Hebrew school, said. “In addition, there will be singing, Israeli dancing and traditional games for children, including spinning dreidels.”
Congregation B’nai Chaim often features special guests at their services. Most recently, former Rabbi and Cantor Barry Ulrych was invited to participate in this year’s Jewish holy days as the congregation’s guest cantor.
“What a treat he has been,” Michlin said. “The quality and the feeling of his voice have greatly enhanced the spirituality of our services. Rabbi Barry has left to return to his home in Detroit for personal and health reasons. It is good to see that he has progressed so nicely.”
B’nai Chaim has played a big part in building and energizing the Jewish community. The congregation is introducing activities at the synagogue that has resulted in greater involvement.
“Involvement has not been limited to the Jewish community,” Michlin said. “Our Christian neighbors are participating as well. We recently had a barbecue and big band dance where one of our local churches did the cooking and serving as well as enjoying the evening’s program.
“One of our goals is to become a Jewish community center without walls,” he said.
Congregation B’nai Chaim, along with the Christian community, has been a driving force in the planning and presentation for a new Holocaust Memorial at Murrieta’s Town Square Park, as well. The city’s park and recreation commission recently approved the design that will be taken before the city council in the coming weeks.
“We have a design and a model that has been built,” Michlin said. “It’s a beautiful memorial. In addition to its meaningful design, it is also a teaching memorial focusing on the important message of ‘Never Again.’”
Located at 29500 Via Princessa in Murrieta, Congregation B’nai Chaim is a full-service, independent Conservative Jewish synagogue, serving the Temecula Valley and drawing people of all ages and backgrounds including interfaith families. Services are held 7 p.m. every Friday and 9:30 a.m. Saturday.
The synagogue can be reached by calling (951) 677-7350. For more information, visit www.bnaichaim.com.