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Menorah ceremony kicks off Hanukkah

By Mark Laflamme

Staff Writer

On the first full day of Hanukkah, Vahid Rohanz was not looking for a gift. In fact, the 14-year-old Auburn boy is not even Jewish. But the teen joined dozens of others Monday night at a Hanukkah celebration at Midnight Blues Pub. A Bahai who doesn’t celebrate Hanukkah or Christmas, Rohanz was curious about Jewish tradition.

“I came down to find out more about it,” he said. “What was interesting to me was the lighting of the menorah and the singing.”

Learning was part of the festivities. Adults mingled with children. Some were devout Jews, others were getting an education. The elders were pleased to see so many youngsters celebrating.

“It’s good to see there is still an up-and-coming Jewish community,” said Sonja Jacobs-Bussiere, who was playing with a dreidel with her sons, 9 and 13. “They’re just getting into learning about the traditions. It’s just wonderful.”

Moments earlier, the crowd of nearly a hundred jammed the sidewalk in front of the Court Street club. A rabbi lit the menorah and the crowd broke into song. Some were sung in Hebrew, others in English. All of them were lively and some got people dancing.

The gathering was meant to be a fun and spirited celebration of the eight-day holiday.

But there was also a somber side. Rabbi Moshe Wilinsky of Portland drew attention to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. And he emphasized that in many parts of the world, Jews and others are still oppressed.

“Today we are a free country of America. Everybody is allowed to practice their religion,” Wilinsky said. “We see again the importance of being in America.”

The party moved inside the cafe after the menorah lighting on the sidewalk. A band performed, traditional food was served, children played games.

"I was happy to see that all the kids know how to play dreidel," Jacobs-Bussiere said. "But I lost to my kids."

Mayors from both Auburn and Lewiston moved through the crowd inside. Youngsters played together while adults gathered in small groups. The cafe, in its first year of business, has become the focal point for holiday festivities.

“There are a lot of good things happening in downtown Auburn. We’re glad to be a part of that,” said Paul Morency, co-owner of the club.

“People know us as a nightclub,” said his partner, Scott Dobson. “But we’re very family oriented. I’m excited that this is happening, and we’re a part of it.”

For Rohanz, Monday night was for learning about and experiencing other religious celebrations. But he was also educating others about his own faith.

"We don't celebrate Christmas," he said. "We celebrate something called Nawruz. That's our new year."

And there was plenty to learn. As he lit the menorah, Wilinsky explained the roots of Hanukkah. The celebration dates back more than 2,000 years, when an outnumbered Jewish army defeated oppressive Greeks to reclaim the temple at Jerusalem and preserve Judaism. And the holiday lasts eight days for a reason oil that was supposed to burn only one day at the temple instead burned for eight. Some call it a miracle, and the tradition remains.

©Copyright 2001, Lewiston Sun Journal

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