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'Hanukkah Hub' Opens First Night of Holiday

NORWALK, Conn. – Sharon DeFalo's two children lit the candles Tuesday night, just as their ancestors did thousands of years ago, in a darkened room crowded with young families.

DeFalo and her family were at Congregation Beth El on East Avenue to mark the first night of Hanukkah with an outdoor menorah lighting, latkes and dancing. Others attended the menorah lighting minutes earlier at Stew Leonard's, less than a mile away. Some attended both in what one woman called, a "Hanukkah Hub."

DeFalo said the communal gathering was good for her children, 8-year-old Donny and 6-year-old Belle. "At home, it's the four of us in our house, our condo," she said. "Being in a room with that many people all sitting in the blessings together, it puts it in the context of community to them. It's wonderful."

Rabbi Yehoshua Hecht of Beth Israel of Westport and Norwalk led the menorah lighting at Stew's, now in its 19th year. He said he wanted to "light up the night with tolerance, brotherhood and sisterhood" in a "night of unity and togetherness."

Hecht joked that he had an unlimited supply of gelt — chocolate coins — to hand out, "part of the miracle of Hanukkah." The celebration was held in Stew's front parking lot, next to a large Christmas tree, and was attended by members of different faiths.

"We prosper and we thrive, we grow stronger as a community in Fairfield County when we're all together and we realize that each and every one of us is created in the image of our creator, we have a Godly soul. There is much to accomplish, each and every one of us is so important to the mosaic of life in this great country of ours."

Many of Congregation Beth El's 300 families attended the celebration led there by Rabbi Ron Fish. They met in the temple, then lit candles together on a table covered with foil. Then they headed outside for what Fish called "Jewish caroling" — Yiddish singing and dancing around the newly lit menorah visible from East Avenue.

The lights have a significance that goes back millennia. "We celebrate the festival of Jewish survival more than 2,000 years ago, when the Greeks tried to extinguish the flame of Jewish faith," Fish said. "It is the holiday which talks about the enduring human spirit, which is the small candle that lights all the others, that can light up everyone else."

After eating latkes and doughnuts, children played with dreidels. DeFalo explained that the symbols on the spinning tops meant "a great miracle happened there."

"Whatever your struggle is at this moment in history, a great miracle happened there, it can happen here," she said. "It's a reminder to us."

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