The Hanukkah festivities held Sunday, December 9 at the Jewish Congregation of New Paltz Community Center officially began with the ceremonial lighting of some two dozen menorahs. Families brought their personal nine-branched candelabrum from home for the community candle lighting and a large silver menorah belonging to the congregation was lit by Rabbi Bill Strongin at the same time, just after sundown. The gathering this year took place on the seventh night of the eight-day “festival of lights.”
A singalong by the congregation’s Chai Notes followed, led by the resonant voice of Rabbi Bill. Most of the attendees joined in enthusiastically on selections that ranged from traditional to the comic “Eight Days of Hanukkah,” with the well-known countdown lyrics converted to symbols of Hanukkah such as bags of gelt and fried latkes.
Speaking of latkes, the singalong ended with the presentation of latkes made by the “Famous Latke-teers,” volunteers from the congregation who every year get together on the afternoon of the Hanukkah celebration to make massive quantities of the tasty fried potato cakes in the community center’s industrial-sized kitchen. Latkes are a tradition at Hanukkah, because the oil that they are fried in symbolizes the miracle of Hanukkah, when a menorah that was lit with a small amount of oil that should have only lasted a day burned for eight days as the Maccabees rededicated their defiled holy temple in Jerusalem after their victory over the Syrian-Greeks.
The latkes, accompanied by sour cream and apple sauce to top them off, were arranged on platters amidst a vegetarian community potluck of dishes brought from home by those present. The gathering was as convivial as always, a lively buzz of conversations between adults while kids preferred to “eat and run,” at least to the back of the room where various games and craft activities were set up. And while the event is a celebration of the Jewish faith, everyone in the community is always welcome to attend. The lobby held a Judaica Shop that was open for gift purchasing, with a wide variety of menorahs, books, candles and other related items for sale.
The Jewish Congregation of New Paltz, or Kehillat Ahavat Achim, was founded in 1964 and affiliated with the Reconstructionist Movement in 1984, which is also the year Rabbi William M. Strongin became spiritual leader in New Paltz. (He has — so far — officiated at two weddings for children of members that he named as babies more than 30 years ago.) Rabbi Bill describes his relationship to the congregation as essentially “a marriage in which rabbi and congregation face all joys and sorrows together.”
The congregation is an egalitarian one, open to all Jews including single people, families, LGBTQ, interracial, interfaith couples or interfaith families and committed to maintaining respect for other faiths. Regular Shabbat services are generally held on Friday evenings at 6 p.m. at the shul at 8 Church Street. There is a Hebrew school for children focusing on developing a strong Jewish identity through a curriculum of rigorous content in a warm, nurturing environment, and regular educational and recreational programs for adults. For more information, visit https://www.jewishcongregationofnewpaltz.org/new-home.