Menorah Lights the Path to Giving

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Rabbi Mintz at the Noah’s Ark themed menorah lighting at Fashion Island last weekend. — Photo by Charles Weinberg

Have you ever wondered if there was a menorah on Noah’s Ark?

One of the wonders that Chabad Newport invites the community to is the Noah’s Ark Menorah, which they will light in honor of Chanukah on Sunday, Dec. 9 at 3 p.m. in the Atrium Garden Court at Fashion Island.

“We’ve got some of the animals that the ark housed,” Rabbi Reuven Mintz explained. “We have a talented group of volunteers and builders and they have had a whole year to think, and to dream and to be creative. We’ll also have all types of entertainment and activities for the children. We’re very excited about it.”

This is the 12th year that Chabad Newport has held the annual Menorah Lighting, and each year the menorah is built out of something different based on the theme of the year. Past menorahs have been decorated with seashells, dreidles and chocolate.

Besides the fun, festivities, and games, Rabbi Mintz explained that the event will also highlight the important traditions of giving gifts and doing good deeds.

Chanukah at Fashion Island 2012 invitation

“Gift giving is an important part of our celebration,” he explained.  “A number of years ago we started a gift drive to collect presents for disadvantaged children.  The list of those in need continues to grow, especially in this economic situation, and we’re getting requests for help from more families. We encourage attendees to bring an unwrapped gift which we will give to needy children and children with special needs in the community. We collect toys all year long and we have several toy companies who are very generous, such as Jacks Pacific.”

The day I spoke with Rabbi Mintz, Jacks Pacific delivered 500 presents.

“New this year to the Menorah Lighting is that we are going to have some of the higher functioning young adults from the Friendship Circle be front and center,” Rabbi Mintz added.  “Many of them are very gifted at singing and they are going to sing five songs.  We have a music instructor who comes and works with them, and it’s going to be a huge accomplishment for them to get prepped mentally and for them to get them on stage.”

The Friendship Circle is a national and international organization that pairs children with special needs together with teenage volunteers to be friends.  The innovative approach of the program promotes greater understanding of the unique gifts of children with special needs and encourages respect and empathy for those facing difficult challenges. There are over 80 Friendship Circles around the world, and they are for anybody; participants do not have to be Jewish.

“Our Friendship Circle has been growing by leaps and bounds,” Rabbi Mintz said.  “We’ve added more teens. For seven years we focused on the 5-18 year age group, but our special needs teens are now in their 20’s and want to remain part of it, so we’ve created more special programs for them. We teach basic life skills and try to equip them as much as possible, especially since many of their primary care givers are aging. We now have about 220 teens enrolled in various programs.”

Rabbi Mintz said that Chabad Newport launched an Adopt-A-Family program this year where they connect people year round with families in need.  Families provide things others need in the form of gift cards, gas cards and food cards.  Some families invite those in need to share a meal together.

“It’s especially busy this time of year,” Rabbi Mintz said. “But we must not forget those in need as we get caught up in the holiday fever.  Little things in life many of us take for granted are so terribly important to families in need and to the elderly. Too many of the elderly are neglected and hurting, and it pains me. They don’t have voices or the energy to speak up for themselves and we need to fill the void.”

Members of Chabad Newport will also go to hospitals, assisted living, and convalescent homes to do a Chanukah program. They invite the community to join them by helping with the programs, or to donate gift cards or gifts, as well as helping by delivering gifts.

“When we enter into this holiday season, we need to focus on what we are grateful for, and share this joy with a stranger,” he added. ” When you know you have shared your joy with a stranger, it makes your celebration much more joyful and meaningful. It warms your heart and soul.”

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Cindy can be reached at [email protected]

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