Person of the Week
Sharing and Celebrating the Message of Chanukah
In addition to placing and tending public menorahs on town greens in Guilford, Branford, and East Haven, Rabbi Yossi Yaffe of Chabad of the Shoreline and his wife, Rochel Baila Yaffe, will host family-friendly Menorah Lighting celebrations in Branford on Sunday, Dec. 22 and Guilford on Sunday, Dec. 29 to help share the message of this Jewish holiday. (Photo by Pam Johnson/The Courier | Buy This Photo)
To celebrate and share the message of Chanukah, Rabbi Yossi Yaffe of Chabad of the Shoreline will successively light the candles of public menorahs on town greens in Guilford, Branford and East Haven over the eight nights of the Jewish holiday this year, from Sunday to Sunday, Dec. 22 to 29.
This season’s Sunday-to-Sunday Chanukah timeline will also be bookended by two public events hosted by Yossi and his wife, Rochel Baila Yaffe: a family-friendly first night of Chanukah celebration in Branford on Dec. 22, and another special gathering for all in Guilford on Dec. 29, the final night of Chanukah.
Each year, the timing for this Jewish holiday, which commemorates events that happened some 300 years earlier than the birth of Christ, roughly coincides—and so is overshadowed—by the huge number of Christmas celebrations taking place. That’s one of the reasons why it’s important to extend to those of the Jewish faith an opportunity to celebrate Chanukah in a more public way, Yossi explains.
“In this season, when people want to do things with their families and their kids, the point is to have something that commemorates the holiday of Chanukah and allows the children and their family to fully feel comfortable in their heritage and their faith, without feeling sort of left out,” he says.
Now in its 20th year, Chabad of the Shoreline has helped to foster, educate, and celebrate the heritage of the area’s Jewish community, as well as working to bolster that identity by offering special programs like those planned for Chanukah. Chabad of the Shoreline also hosts the annual Jewish Festival on the Guilford Green, which just marked its 14th anniversary in July.
“Our goal is to make Judaism comfortable for people wherever they may be religiously, in the sense of people who are exploring their heritage to find out more about it,” he explains. “So since that is the goal, the means to it may vary from year to year and time to time, as far as what attracted the most people and what people appreciate the most. So classes, the festival, and holiday programs are always a core thing that we feel we like to have.”
The Lessons of Chanukah
Chanukah commemorates the second century B.C. rededication of the Second Temple in Jerusalem. There, according to legend, Jews rose up against their Syrian-Greek oppressors. The lighting of the menorah represents the small quantity of oil that was available to light the temple’s menorah, which miraculously lasted eight days.
On Dec. 22 at 4 p.m., Yossi will touch off a public Menorah Lighting beside the historic Academy on the Branford Town Green, 200 Montowese Street, followed by a free Chanukah party inside the Academy building, with kids activities, Chanukah refreshments, and a Jewish folk music concert with Gedalya Sloshay.
On Dec. 29, ahead of lighting the final candle on the menorah on the Guilford Green, Chabad of the Shoreline will host a free Chanukah Puppet Show featuring Anita Sobel of Talking Hands Theatre presenting The Mystery of Hanukkah Harry and a Chanukah party from 2:30 to 3:30 p.m. at Guilford Free Library, 67 Park Street, followed by a group walk over to the green for the lighting of the menorah.
While electric lights will stand-in to safely represent the flame of candles on each public menorah, during both the Branford and Guilford events, Rabbi Yaffe will light a torch-as-candle to emphasize the start and the close of the holiday.
“I will do that on the first day and the eighth day because the physical flame, which is also beautiful, is closer related to the actual lighting people do in their home. And it’s a powerful thing to see that: the fuel, the wick, the candle being lit, which has within it all these different messages as well,” he says.
Placing and tending public menorahs on the Guilford, Branford, and East Haven town greens is an ideal way to share the lessons of lighting and displaying this traditional Jewish holiday candelabra, he notes.
“It fits in very well with the theme of Chanukah, which right from the beginning was to put the menorah either by your doorway or by the window, and reveal the miracle to everyone. So doing public events on Chanukah fits in with the warp and woof of what Chanukah’s all about: spreading the light and the message of the miracle, and the idea of standing strong for your identity,” he says. “The story of Chanukah was one where, in the land of Israel, the majority culture had become the Syrian-Greeks, and they were Hellenized, and it’s so the idea of standing up for your religion. So it is a beautiful poetry that today people can identify with their faith on Chanukah with a positive way that allows them and their entire family to participate.”
The first candle is lit on the first night of Chanukah, followed by the next and the next over the progressive days of the holiday, until, on the eighth night, all of the candles are alight. Rochel says one of the lessons her husband provides as the candles are lit is that “you can’t change your life overnight to become a more moral person in your values. It’s step by step, and then you turn around, and you’ve changed. It can be gradual, and that can be encouraging.”
“The menorah, which illuminates the outside, is a symbol for what we’re trying to do,” Yossi adds. “We try to be the living menorahs. Everyone of us is supposed to be in light.”
What is Chabad?
One question this Guilford couple hears often is “What is Chabad?”
As Rochel explains, there are Chabad all over the world.
“I think that one thing that’s unique about Chabad is that on the one hand we’re all traditionally observant Chassidic Jews, but each Chabad is just a family. So instead of people coming to a synagogue, they’re coming to a family,” she says. “It’s a husband and wife that move out to a place to work with the Jewish community. Over these 20 years, they’ve seen us raise our seven children [and] they see Jewish family life.”
The couple first arrived on the shoreline in 1999 from Brooklyn, New York, with homes in Branford, Madison and Guilford through the years. Their spacious home today, framed by wooded surrounds, is close to the Branford/Guilford town line on the Boston Post Road and open to all who contact the Chabad for support or services. Chabad has no membership fees.
“When we moved out here, our mission was to be here for the Jewish community in any way they needed,” says Rochel. “As needs were shown, that’s where we’ve assisted. If people didn’t have a Passover Seder to go to, we have a Passover Seder. My husband has classes, I have classes. We’re here to promote Judaism to Jewish people.”
Chabad of the Shoreline also offers traditional Jewish services to compliment the experience for those belonging to temples, as well as to assist any who may not be otherwise involved.
“Many people who belong to temples come to us, as well, to supplement [the] more traditional perspective. coming to us for different programs or when we have children’s programs or family events,” the rabbi says. “And people who are not members of any established organization, they’ll be comfortable coming to us for things like holiday services [or] for Friday night dinners and things like that. That’s why we have this house and the fact that it is in the structure of a home that’s warm and inviting with very low barriers of entry.”
Chabad of the Shoreline also provides outreach services for the Jewish community.
“Because we’re not membership based, anytime anyone might need a service [for] whatever life cycle events or challenges they’re having, we try to help them in some way,” Yossi says.
In addition to offering the likes of funeral, bar mitzvah, and other religious services, if needed, they’ll also answer the call to help out with requests such a visit from the rabbi to a hospice bedside, or bringing Kosher food to someone in the hospital.
“We get requests like you’d ask of a cousin or of a friend,” says Rochel. “That’s what we’re here for. We want people to think of us as your extended Jewish family.”
As Chabad is also dedicated to raising program funds locally and spending those funds locally, sponsors are always welcome to assist with supporting community programming such as the upcoming Chanukah events.
Chabad of the Shoreline also offers free Chanukah menorah kits and candles for anyone who may be in need of one; contact Chabad at email@example.com or 203-533-7495. For more information about Chabad of the Shoreline, visit www.jewishshoreline.org or find Chabad-Lubavitch of the Shoreline on Facebook.