Jewish residents of the South Hills joined together Sunday afternoon for the first of two communitywide celebrations to mark the festival of Chanukah.
Geared to families with young children, the free event held at the South Hills Jewish Community Center offered a variety of holiday-related crafts, a bounce house, a balloon artist and an all-you-can-eat buffet of latkes, pizza and doughnuts.
South Hills Jewish Pittsburgh, Beth El Congregation and Temple Emanuel joined the South Hills JCC in sponsoring the event.
Though the party has been held annually for some time, this was the first year that saw the involvement of the newly formed SHJP, an initiative of the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh, which aims to connect Jewish individuals and families living in the South Hills with each other through programming grants and collaborations.
More than 275 people came out to enjoy the Chanukah festivities, according to Rob Goodman, director of SHJP.
“We are thrilled to help fund this event through a grant, which was unanimously approved by our council,” Goodman said.
Riley Herman, 3, had been looking forward to the celebration all morning, said his mother, Erin Herman.
“He’s been excited about this since 7:30 this morning, when I told him we were coming to the party,” Herman said, as she helped Riley paint a handmade menorah. “He’s been looking forward to seeing his friends and playing in the bounce house. And as soon as we finish this menorah, we are off for some pizza.”
Tables with crafts were displayed by PJ Library and Shalom Pittsburgh, among other groups, and included candle making and picture-frame making.
A Chanukah sing-a-long, led by Beth El’s Rabbi Alex Greenbaum, and Jessica Locketz, associate rabbi at Temple Emanuel, was a highlight of the afternoon.
Greenbaum, who makes it a priority to participate in the joint Chanukah celebration each year, said that this year, in particular, it is important to recognize the message of religious freedom signified by the holiday.
“Chanukah, historically speaking, was the first war fought in the name of religious freedom,” Greenbaum said. “In a world so full of hate, Chanukah comes to remind us that we should respect all religions.
“I think what we’re seeing today, from ISIS to San Bernardino, is today’s war for religious freedom,” he continued. “The terrorists are trying to destroy any other forms of religion and trying to impose their own religion on us.”
It is imperative to remember Chanukah’s lesson about the importance of standing up to those forces that attempt to quash others’ freedom to worship as they choose, Greenbaum said.
A second South Hills communitywide Chanukah celebration was to he be held at the Galleria of Mt. Lebanon on Monday night, presented by Chabad of the South Hills, and featuring latkes, crafts, music and guest Dave Darwin’s “One Man Side Show,” as seen on “America’s Got Talent.”
Toby Tabachnick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.