A Very Special Hanukah
By Carole Stone
A very special Hanukah, the Jewish festival of lights, begins at sundown on December 24⎯another landmark in the Jewish presence in San Miguel.
The blessing for the first candle on the eight-branch menorah will be chanted as its flame is kindled. Strains of “Who Can Retell?” and “Don’t Let the Lights Go Out” will fill the hall. The prized and traditional latkes⎯crispy fried potato pancakes⎯will warm souls and bodies feeling the bite of these darkest days and coldest nights of the year. Children will spin the dreidel to win Hanukah gelt⎯chocolate coins wrapped in gold foil. One strictly local custom will be honored: building a menorah with cans and boxes of food contributed by the crowd to be donated to the hungry after the festival.
Lighting the menorah is not new to the San Miguel scene
The history of Jews in San Miguel de Allende goes way back, at least to the 1930s, when the Cohen family arrived from Aleppo, Syria. More Jews were among the GIs who “discovered” San Miguel after World War II, and the artists and writers who settled here. Miranda Nadel led a Jewish community for many years that held Torah study on Saturday mornings and celebrated the Jewish holidays, including Hanukah. Upon her retirement, Shalom San Miguel de Allende was formed. In 2012, it earned legal status as a Mexican not-for-profit organization, CHESMA, AC, Comunidad Hebrea en San Miguel de Allende, Asociación Civil. CHESMA’s home at Las Moras 47 was purchased three years ago and now houses activities of all kinds, including this year’s special Hanukah party. The community now numbers between 100 and 120 members, of whom about a fourth are Mexican, the rest being expats and visitors.
Besides this official history, it is likely that the eight candles of the menorah have been kindled in many private San Miguel apartments and homes. And who can resist the soul-warming delight of the latkes in the dark and freezing days of December in which Hanukah falls?
The community party will include members of Shalom San Miguel, winter visitors, and any guests from the community who want to be a part of this special event. Twelve special guests will have embraced the Jewish tradition just hours before. Ten adults and two children will celebrate their first Hanukah as members of the faith, having passed a test of their knowledge of Jewish law and tradition in a bet din conducted by three questioning rabbis, dipped into the pure rain waters of the traditional mikveh, and declared their willingness to cast their lot with the Jewish community.
In this Jewish year, 5777, Hanukah falls on December 24, so that Jews have a holiday of their own to celebrate amidst the other joyous festivities in this largely Christian town. All San Miguel citizens of whatever faith (or non-faith) are invited to join the festivities on December 24 and 25.
Fri, Dec 23, 5:30pm
Kabbalat Shabbat service and potluck dinner. Join us in welcoming Rabbis Juan Mejía and Dany Mehlman. Please bring dairy or vegetarian food/beverages/desserts to share.
Sat, Dec 24, 5pm
Lecture: “Who Are the Conversos, and Why Do They Want to Be Jews Again?”
Havdalah, First Night Chanukah Lighting and “Nittelnacht”
Sun, Dec 25, 4pm
Annual Community Chanukah Party