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December 22, 2014
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Happy Hanukkah — Let there be light!

Dave Dunlap lights a giant menorah, the newest addition to his spectacular display at Santa’s Village in Monticello, NY.
TRR photos by Jonathan Fox


Hanukkah, the “Festival of Lights,” is widely considered a relatively minor holiday in the Jewish year. In the United States, however, its closeness to Christmas has brought greater attention to Hanukkah and its gift-giving tradition. Amid the ever-growing flood of Christmas advertising, it may seem especially fitting that the Hanukkah story tells of Jewish culture surviving in a non-Jewish world (www.factmonster.com)

It’s kind of ironic that so many folks think of the Catskills as being rich in Jewish culture—and in many ways it is—but I have scads of friends throughout the Upper Delaware Valley who know little about the holidays and traditions that my Jewish heritage embraces. This past weekend, however, proved to be an opportunity for me to share the Hanukkah story and celebrate with my pals, who wanted to learn more. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a big fan of Santa and have run into him a lot lately, but when Dave and Corinne Dunlap (www.facebook.com/pages/Santas-Village-at-Hilltop-Homes) invited me to help light the newest addition to their holiday display, (a giant menorah) I leaped at the chance.

Admittedly, I might have goaded Dunlap into it, having participated last year in his efforts to help make thousands of children’s Christmas wishes come true by creating a winter wonderland and by giving his time (and considerable talents) to the Toys for Tots and CASA kids (www.sullivancountycasa.org) campaign, now in its fifth year. While celebrating last season, I may have mentioned (once or twice) that my peeps have a holiday, too. When Dave called, I had no idea what he had in store, so I was shocked to find that he and Corinne had planned a surprise party to go with the menorah-lighting ceremony, replete with a dinner, gifts, dreidels and gelt. Everyone gathered outside as I sang (OY!) the traditional blessing and translated the meaning for the many friends they had so kindly invited to join us, and then we retired indoors to enjoy an incredibly festive party.

Corrinne (with the help of many) had researched the traditional Hanukkah fare, so there was no lack of oil-laden entrees and confections on the table, which had been festooned in silver and blue and included a place of honor (and presents!) for Dharma, the wonder dog. I was (quite literally) ferklempt, overcome at the generosity of spirit of my friends, who gathered that night to hear me regale them with the history of Hanukkah, (www.myjewishlearning.com), to learn the “dreidel song” and to let me drone on about how my mom worked tirelessly to make the holiday as “special” (no mean feat) as Christmas.

I managed (for something completely different) not to cry as I bid farewell to these incredible folks, but will never forget what an exceptional gift they gave me that night and am thrilled to be a small part of the celebration about to take place there on the 14th and 15th at Santa’s Village. For more information, call 845/807-7555. The event is free, but a new unwrapped toy for those less fortunate is most welcome. If you’re in need of a good laugh, I’ll be there on Saturday (from 5 to 8 p.m.) dressed as an elf (with you-know-who tucked under my arm) so bring your camera and feel free to mock.

Meanwhile, across town, (www.bethelwoodscenter.org) there was a different story being told, as the Delaware Valley Opera (DVO) presented a holiday classic, “Amahl and the Night Visitors,” for a packed house. After a greeting by DVO general manager and director Carol Castel, everyone sat rapt with attention as Mason Marie Clark (Amahl) and Carol Diefenbach (Mother) joined wise men Eric Barsness (Balthazar), John Kaneklides (Kaspar) and Wayne Line (Melchior) on stage with Marty Strasinger (The Page) to tell the story of a young boy who receives a magical visit from the wise men. The show was beautifully presented, the voices glorious, and what was (for many youngsters in the house) a first-time experience with opera, a great introduction to the art form itself. As the final presentation in the 2012 World Stage Series at Bethel Woods, it was (IMHO) a fitting tribute to the season, and the gingerbread cookies were swell, too. When the show was over, Dharma played with the kids before reminding me that Santa would be on Main Street in Callicoon the next day, and that she needed some down time before her next public appearance.

Yep, Santa was there, girl scouts were caroling and a festive atmosphere reigned supreme as we made our way home, to light the menorah once more. As Hanukkah continues to light up the night, I need to brush up on Kwanzaa, before hitting the road in search of adventure, always seeking to learn something new along the way.

Have something to share? Shoot me an email at jonathanfox@riverreporter.com and “like” The River Reporter on Facebook to see photos of your favorite holiday destinations.