Feature Stories

In Romania, a Grassroots Chanukah

Jewish leaders in Romania are hoping the community’s celebration of Chanukah this year — festivities that relied heavily on volunteer efforts and grassroots planning — paves the way for a more participatory slate of Jewish programming in Bucharest.

For the first time, members of the city’s approximately 3,500-strong Jewish community staged a Chanukah musical, in addition to traditional candle-lighting ceremonies.

“This Chanukah musical is not a produced-by-professionals show. It’s a community one, where the members get the chance to express their talents, take responsibility, and of course, receive applause a the end,” said Adrian Gueron, director of Bucharest’s Jewish Community Center. “We see this as part of the process of inspiring the members of the community to actively get involved, as well as teaching them what it means to be responsible for community life.”

The musical — titled “The Maccabim Spirit” — “motivated and empowered” more than 100 performers, ranging in age from 4 years old to seniors over 80. About 200 spectators came out to see the show.

Romania also celebrated the holiday with “Light in the City,” an evening where different age groups lit menorahs in various trendy parts of Bucharest, a city about the size of metropolitan Philadelphia. Dozens of children aged 12-18 lit candles in a teahouse, local college students participated at a theater/café, and some 50 seniors participated in a public high school.

“Light in the City” is important in terms of visibility for the city’s Jewish community, Gueron said.

“Even if it might seem insignificant, celebrating a Jewish holiday in downtown Bucharest, the capital of a Christian country, is a matter of being proud of our identity,” he said.

Other Chanukah events included: a special lighting of the first Chanukah candle at Bucharest’s Great Synagogue; an Oneg Shabbat that drew 150 participants; a “Children’s Miracle” event for kids up to the age of 12 and their parents and grandparents; and a “1,001 Chanukah Lights” dance party for children and young adult featuring themed holiday dances and contests.

JDC funds roughly 50 percent of the community’s cost to stage these holiday events.

“JDC brings its international experience of working in different communities with different needs. Due to its ongoing partnership of more than 40 years with the local Jewish community in Romania, JDC knows the unique and specific features of this community and is able to initiate and support programs tailored to it,” Gueron said. “None of these events would have been possible without JDC.”

Most critically, the Chanukah musical is a powerful sign that the Romanian Jewish community is ready to innovate and work hard to secure its future, Gueron said.

“Our vision is of a vibrant, active community, where members act and react, get involved, create, develop, and transfer Jewish values to the next generation,” he said. “A community in which every Jew finds himself, and where every member feels responsible for and cares for each other.”

JDC’s work in Romania is generously supported by the United Jewish Federation of Tidewater and the Howard and Geraldine Polinger Family Foundation.

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