Festival of Lights
Jewish community marks Hanukkah downtown
Thursday, December 29, 2005 12:25 PM CST
DOUG WATERS, The Daily News, /783-3276
Published: December 29, 2005
Close to 50 people shared a spiritual shiver in Wednesday night's drizzle - lighting menorahs, singing Hanukkah hymns, and making history at Bowling Green's Fountain Square Park. Joanne Seiff and her husband, Jeff Marcus, said they organized "Celebrate Religious Freedom on the Square"; to observe the Jewish festival of lights and to embrace "the city's new, more welcoming diversity policy"; - the result of a nine-month discussion with city officials. Marcus said the ceremony was "the first non-Christian observance on the square in Bowling Green ever.";
Seiff restricted publicity to e-mailing churches and various interfaith contacts because, she said, minority groups must consider safety first. Although the "crummy weather"; cut the ceremony by 15 minutes, Seiff said they never thought about moving it inside.
"One of the commandments says that you should put your menorah in a window or public place so people can see and celebrate with you,"; she said. "(The square) is essentially the town's window.";
Roc Linkov, the treasurer of Am Shalom, a Reform Jewish congregation that meets in a building behind the square, said it was heartening for him to celebrate Hanukkah in a communal setting despite Bowling Green being "a little sparse for us."; Linkov and his family moved to Kentucky from New Jersey two years ago.
"This (event) is important because Bowling Green celebrates diversity, but the Jewish population is basically hidden,"; Linkov said. "A big thanks to Joanne and Jeff for bringing this to recognition.";
Toby Black, another Am Shalom congregant, agreed with Linkov's summation and said the event should heighten people's awareness of area minority groups.
Susan Bell of Madisonville facetiously said she came to behold "the first public menorah lighting in the South."; Her husband, David, said the gathering was a "throng by comparison"; to other Hanukkah ceremonies. They found out about it by virtue of a Jewish student group at Western Kentucky University, where their daughter graduated six years ago.
Operating under breezy conditions, Seiff asked for volunteers to shield the candles while she fired up the couple's two menorahs. She said they often have to drive to Nashville for religious supplies because of Bowling Green's modest Jewish population.
The group bunched together - protecting the candles and warming each other - as they sang traditional Hanukkah songs. Seiff said the fourth candle was lit Wednesday, corresponding to the fourth night of the festival, and the center "shamas"; candle, meaning "servant"; in Hebrew, is used to light the others.
The ceremony beckoned a gamut of Jewish-Christian relations.
Jane and Larry Pearl, members of the Messianic Jewish Beit Simcha congregation on East 10th Avenue, said they came to support the effort. They said their congregation, which also has a menorah displayed in a window, believes that Jesus fulfilled numerous Old Testament messianic prophecies. The only difference in their lighting practice, they said, is that the shamas symbolizes "Yeshua"; - Jesus in Hebrew - to them.
Susan Bennett of Bowling Green and her husband are Christians; however, their 24-year-old daughter, Hannah, with whom she attended the ceremony, converted to Judaism a few years ago, around the time she dated a Jewish boy.
"She's a much better Jew than we are Christians,"; Bennett said.
Hannah Bennett, reflecting on the experience, said Bowling Green is a small community that is finally starting to celebrate other cultures.
"You just feel very spiritual and fulfilled afterward,"; she said, "… and very in with the Hanukkah season.";
Laurie Joyce, who attends Christ Episcopal Church in Bowling Green, said curiosity led her to the ceremony.
"Jesus was a Jew,"; Joyce said. "It is important for me to learn the background.";
Similarly, Mark Clauson, who attends a Methodist church near Alvaton, said, "I'm just here to learn as much as I can about the Jewish faith. Judaism and Christianity have similar roots.";
When the singing commenced, Seiff and Marcus dispensed doughnuts to participants to help them savor the season. According to Seiff, fried foods, like doughnuts, traditionally represent "the miracle of the oil that kept the Jerusalem Temple lit for eight nights, when there was only enough oil for one.";
Combined with the sweet memories, Seiff said she expects more participants next year because of Hanukkah falling earlier in December.
Photos by Clinton Lewis/Daily News
Members of the Bowling Green area Jewish community participate in the lighting of a menorah Wednesday at Fountain Square Park. Wednesday was the fourth night of Hanukkah.
Copyright, 2005, News Publishing LLC (Bowling Green, KY)