For what is believed the first time, a competition will take place Sunday that brings together the clergy, staff and members of two North Fulton synagogues in a contest of spirit and creativity for Chanukah. Congregation Gesher L’Torah and Congregation Dor Tamid will compete, in partnership with the Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta and joined by JumpSpark a Federation Innovation Initiative, helping with technology, social media marketing and website registration.
With grant money from the Federation, the synagogues each received 40 Chanukah House kits for the contest that will take place on Zoom at 7 p.m. Dec. 13.
When asked how the idea for this contest came about, Rebecca Gordon, GLT education director said she spoke with Federation’s Carla Birnbaum about applying for a Making Jewish Places microgrant. Birnbaum oversees the North Metro (Alpharetta and Johns Creek) microgrant program. “We tossed ideas back and forth and the Chanukah House Competition was born,” Gordon said.
Her counterpart at CDT, Molly Peled, said, “This is the first virtual Chanukah party where our rabbis, [GLT’s Michael Bernstein and CDT’s Jordan Ottenstein] will light candles together, virtually, enjoy a performance by the Jewish improv group, The Bible Players, and then celebrate the winners of this friendly competition.”
The entries will be judged by the community via photos on social media, and the eight houses with the most votes will go before a panel of guest judges. Each of the winners will be granted prize money to donate to a Jewish charity of their choice. “We’ve promoted it at religious school,” Peled said, “and the parents and kids are jazzed.” She added that it “fulfills the mitzvah of pirsumei nisa,” the Talmudic phrase for publicizing the miracle of Chanukah.
The Manischewitz Chanukah House Vanilla Cookie Decorating Kit, which also can be bought at Michael’s craft store and through other retailers, includes: Four icing colors, cookie parts, sprinkles and mini beads, menorah and mezuzah sugar decorations, sanding sugar, six-point star, and edible setup board.
Gordon and Peled decided to test their skills at building a Chanukah House together, in advance, to experience the trials and tribulations firsthand. Gordon wrote in an email to the AJT, “Making our GLT/CDT Chanukah House together was the most fun I have had all year. We came together with masks, and although we wanted to give each other big hugs, we kept our distance.”
Realizing that the construction of the walls and roof would need drying time prior to adding the embellishments, Gordon built that part a day earlier. “When Molly and I came together, we were ready to create the perfect Chanukah House; unfortunately we thought we had much more skills than we did.” They began decorating without a concrete plan.
Gordon continued, “The icing was a mess; it kept dripping off. Placing candy sprinkles and beads in a row came out crooked. Outlining a door was a gloppy mess. But the whole time we were laughing (in our masks) and having fun. I don’t think I have laughed so hard since COVID appeared. Our final product may not have been clean, definitely not pretty, but it was made with laughter and love.”
Peled agreed, “It was a messy project but we worked together and we couldn’t even lick the frosting with our masks on but we were celebrating in a unique way.”
Gordon looked ahead to the contest. “My hope is that all of our families that are in the challenge have as much fun as we did. I have already seen some pictures of houses our members have decorated and they put our house to shame. It is going to be a wonderful evening. The Bible Players are so funny and it will be the first time that CDT/GLT come together to celebrate together; its amazing,” she wrote.
Expressing her heartfelt appreciation, Gordon reiterated, “This program is happening because of the Jewish Federation. Without their support, we would not have had the money to purchase the houses, the entertainment and the donation money for the gifts. This is a big event for our North Metro community. CDT and GLT have been through so much with COVID; we wanted to make sure our families had something fun to do this holiday season.”