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Modesto Jewish congregation shares holiday with community at series of celebrations

A candle is steadied the 2014 menorah lighting at Tenth Street Plaza in Modesto.
A candle is steadied the 2014 menorah lighting at Tenth Street Plaza in Modesto. Modesto Bee

The eight days of Hanukkah will be celebrated with eight evenings of menorah lightings from Turlock to Tracy this year, as Congregation Beth Shalom marks the Jewish holiday.

This will be the fifth year for the CBS public menorah lightings, but the first that will see events spread over the full eight days of Hanukkah. There also will be live concerts and parties at some of the lightings.

The main celebration again will be at Tenth Street Plaza in downtown Modesto, set for Saturday, Dec. 16, when a 5-foot-tall menorah will be set aglow. A live concert will follow featuring Klezmer, Hasidid rock and jam music, according to a press release from Shalom Bochner, rabbi at CBS.

The free events all are open to the public.

Also known as the Festival of Lights, Hanukkah is an eight-day observance dating back more than 2,100 years. This year it begins at sundown Tuesday, Dec. 12, and ends Tuesday, Dec. 19.

The holiday marks a victory by the Maccabees in their struggle for religious and political freedom.

According to www.chabad.org, a Jewish educational website, in second century B.C. Israel was ruled by the Seleucids (Syrian Greeks) who sought to forcefully Hellenize the people of Israel. Against all odds, a small band of faithful Jews – the Maccabees – defeated one of the mightiest armies on Earth and reclaimed the holy temple in Jerusalem. But the temple had been desecrated, and when the people wanted to light its menorah, they found only a one-day supply of holy oil left.

“According to the Talmud, a small jar of oil, with only enough oil for one night, lasted eight days, allowing for new consecrated oil to be prepared for the temple’s menorah,” Bochner said.

While it’s one of the most visible Jewish holidays, it’s actually considered a minor festival in the annual Jewish calendar. The celebration overlaps annually with the new moon, and hence includes one of the darkest nights of the year.

“We celebrate Hanukkah at the darkest nights of the year, literally, by adding more light,” Bochner said. “We are delighted to travel all over the region to let Jews and non-Jews experience this sweet and ancient holiday. Hanukkah is just a minor holiday, but it has a wonderful positive message of hope for everyone.”

The Dec. 16 lighting in downtown Modesto is only one of several that CBS will hold across the region. Here’s a closer look at eight events planned:

Tuesday, Dec. 12: Manteca Library, 320 W. Center St., at 5 p.m., followed by a party at the Senior Center

Wednesday, Dec. 13: Modesto’s McHenry Village, 1700 McHenry Ave., at 5 p.m.

Thursday, Dec. 14: Bianchi Community Center, 110 S. 2nd Ave., Oakdale, 7:15 p.m., followed by an adult gathering at Last Call Brewing.

Friday, Dec. 15: Congregation Beth Shalom, 1705 Sherwood Ave., 4:25 p.m., with a party and a latke dinner.

Saturday, Dec. 16: Tenth Street Plaza, downtown Modesto, 5:45 p.m., followed by a live concert from 6 to 7 p.m.

Sunday, Dec. 17: Vintage Faire Mall promenade, 3401 Dale Road, Modesto, 5 p.m., with a live concert.

Monday, Dec. 18: Tracy City Hall, 333 Civic Center Plaza, at 5 p.m.

Tuesday, Dec. 19: Central Park, downtown Turlock, 5 p.m., followed by a party back in Modesto at Congregation Beth Shalom at 8 p.m.

For more, call CBS at 209-571-6060 or see www.cbsmodesto.org.

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