Hanukkah celebrations counting down

CENTRAL COAST — The Jewish Festival of Lights is underway, this year falling from Dec. 2-10 on the Gregorian or Common Era calendar.

For those that have grown up with only one calendar to reference it’s worth noting that there are myriad ways to know the universe and in this case, remember history with the passage of time.

For instance Chanukah (Hanukkah) this year started on the Hebrew calendar date of 25 Kislev 5779 and commemorates events in the second century B.C.E.

In Atascadero, the Congregation Congregation Ohr Tzafon (Northern Light) is continuing local traditions started three decades ago, joining with other synagogues on the Central Coast for nightly celebrations on the steps of the Mission de San Luis Obispo de Tolosa as well as holding their own events this Friday in their temple at 2605 Traffic Way and a ceremonial lighting of the menorah on the last night of the festival Sunday, Dec. 9, in the City’s Sunken Gardens Park.

Congregation president Jerome Becker noted that outsiders are welcome, especially at the public lighting in the Sunken Gardens, with an emphasis of the event being a meditation on peaceful coexistence and understanding between neighbors.

The origins of the nightly menorah lighting - nine flames, one of which is used to kindle the other eight lights, one for the first night, two for the second, etc - celebrate a miracle in the aftermath of a military victory which reclaimed the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. Consecrated oil used as fuel for the temples candelabra is believed to have lasted eight days instead of one, providing a symbol with countless interpretations from religious scholars but widely seen as a metaphor of hope and determination.

A reform synagogue, Congregation Ohr Tzafon covers Cambria to Paso Robles as well as Atascadero. Not every small town on the Central Coast has their own synagogue, notes the Congregation’s executive assistant, Kate Silverman, so the festival is an opportunity for the Jewish community across the region, and denominations, to come together.

“It’s a time for celebration of the community,” Becker said, “and this year to keep in our minds the memories of the people that were shot in Pittsburgh.”

He’s referring to the most recent incident of anti-Semitic violence to gain national attention.  In October a gunman entered a Pittsburgh synagogue killing 11 congregants and wounding four police officers and two others responding, before being subdued.

“Not only thinking of them but remembering other victims of violence such as the non-Jewish shooting victims in Thousand Oaks,” he continued, “it’s a time to pray for peace.”

Silverman noted that the events had sent a chill through the local Jewish community just as it did across the nation, prompting them to start a fund specifically to be spent on security, and taking steps to protect their Friday services. That said, turnout has remained strong, and visitors to special services have been encouraging.

“For us, the big event is going to be this Friday because all the families will bring their own menorahs from home,” she explained one of the highlights of the traditional potluck and candle lighting set for 5:30 p.m. on Dec. 7.

Anyone interested in participating, or learning more about their local events can go online to, congregationohrtzafon.org, or call 805-466-0329.


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