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Pleasanton synagogues prepare for Hanukkah

Festival of Lights begins Sunday, local celebrations to include menorah lightings, parade, latkes and more

This Sunday marks the start of Hanukkah, the eight-day Festival of Lights, and preparations are underway at local synagogues and in the homes of Jewish families.

The holiday -- which this year lasts from Dec. 2 through 10 -- commemorates Jewish rebels' reclamation of their Temple in Jerusalem from Greek armies in ancient times. But on a broader level, it's a celebration of light over darkness, and of hope in the face of adversity.

And Pleasanton's Chabad of the Tri-Valley and Congregation Beth Emek are marking the holiday this year with giant menorah lightings, special religious services, a car parade and more.

"As families prepare their candles and olive oil to kindle their Chanukah candelabras in their homes, the Tri Valley's communal festivities and events underscore the unique nature of Chanukah; its public observance," said Rabbi Raleigh Resnick, spiritual leader of the Chabad.

"This week, we transport and erect 9-foot public menorahs at Stoneridge Mall, in Livermore's downtown, and along Hopyard Road. In so doing we hope to illuminate the Tri Valley's entire community with the light of goodness, holiness, morality and kindness," he said.

Resnick added that this year they are taking extra security measures in light of the mass shooting in a Pittsburgh synagogue Oct. 27.

The holiday's origins hark back to the second century B.C.E., rooted in accounts recorded in the Talmud, the comprehensive collection of rabbinic writings.

According to the Talmud, the holy Temple in Jerusalem had been captured by Syrian Greeks, who, seeking to impose their own religion on the Land of Israel, had defiled the Jews' place of worship by placing Greek idols around the temple and destroying sacred oil. The small band of rebel Maccabees, though, fought the larger army and recaptured the Temple, re-establishing independence.

This part of the story is historical, according to Beth Emek's Rabbi Laurence Milder, but well-known Hanukkah traditions such as menorah lightings are linked to the legend of the oil. According to the Talmud, the Maccabees found only enough pure, un-defiled oil to last for one night, but the lamp burned for eight nights. Rabbis proclaimed the occurrence a miracle, symbolic of the power of spiritual faith.

In honor of this miracle, then, observant Jewish households light eight-candled menorahs and consume foods fried in oil -- especially latkes (potato pancakes) and sufganiyot (fried jelly doughnuts).

Congregation Beth Emek will be hosting its annual Shabbat Hanukkah service on Dec. 7 at the temple at 3400 Nevada Court. Attendees are invited to bring their menorah to light at the service, which starts at 8 p.m. and will be followed by a treats-filled "Oneg Shabbat," or celebratory gathering after Sabbath services.

"Especially this year, Jews everywhere will be lighting Hanukkah candles as an act of affirmation," Milder said. "In response to the recent anti-Semitic shooting at a synagogue in Pittsburgh, we know that the most important thing we can do is to affirm our identity even more proudly."

Chabad of the Tri-Valley has planned their own festivities and services over the course of the eight days as well. This Sunday, the Chabad will host a "build-your-own-menorah-workshop" at the Home Depot in Pleasanton from 11 a.m. to noon, open to families and children of all ages -- admission is free, but an RSVP is required.

Later that evening, the Chabad will host a Chanukah menorah car parade from 5:30-7 p.m. in the streets surrounding the synagogue at 3370 Hopyard Road, with a police escort guiding congregants in cars adorned by rooftop electric menorahs, ending at the Chabad with a menorah lighting and Chanukah Bash -- again, admission is free but an RSVP is required.

On Tuesday, a "Chanukah Wonderland" will take over the Grand Court at Stoneridge Shopping Center from 5:30-7 p.m., with live music, a holiday game and craft centers, balloon entertainment, Chanukah photo ops and face painting and wrapping up with the lighting of a 9-foot-tall menorah. The celebration is open to all.

And Chabad heads over to Livermore on Dec. 8, for "Chanukah Under the Stars" at the Bankhead Theater. Attendees can help to light up Livermore's Menorah, eat hot latkes and doughnuts, enjoy musical entertainment, meet with city dignitaries and take part in glow-in-the-dark festivities.

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