The spirit of giving that helps define the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah, which begins at sundown Saturday, is taking a new direction this year: helping those in need after superstorm Sandy.
One synagogue is hosting a multicultural, interfaith concert to raise funds for Sandy victims. Another Jewish group is holding a Hanukkah party in storm-ravaged Long Beach. And two teens from Dix Hills have decided to sacrifice two nights worth of the traditional eight nights of Hanukkah gifts to give presents to children affected by the superstorm.
"People this year have come to an understanding and awareness that more than taking they have to give, more than receiving gifts they have to put into their thinking the responsibility to take care of others," said Rabbi Charles Klein of the Merrick Jewish Centre, whose community also was hit hard.
His synagogue is organizing a benefit concert Wednesday that will feature the Manhattan-based Jewish singer Neshama Carlebach performing with the choir of the Green Pastures Baptist Church, an African-American congregation in the Bronx.
The event will take place at 7:30 p.m. at the synagogue at 225 Fox Blvd., Merrick. Proceeds from the sale of tickets, costing between $36 and $72, will go to the MJC Ezra Fund, UJA FEGS and IsraAid to help victims.
"We're hoping to raise a lot of money for people who are really suffering," Klein said.
The concert is dubbed the "Lights of Hope Hurricane Sandy Victim Benefit Concert," reflecting some of the main themes of Hanukkah, known as the "Festival of Lights."
The central idea of Hanukkah "has always been the victory of light over dark, hope over despair, joy over sadness," Klein said.
The Syosset branch of the UJA-Federation of New York will host a Hanukkah party Sunday at the Young Israel of Long Beach synagogue for storm victims. Children will receive donated toys, make crafts and watch a magician perform.
Cecilia Greenhut, 48, of Dix Hills, said she and some friends pitched in to help pay for the magician. Her daughters, Jessica, 15, and Samantha, 14, students at Half Hollow Hills High School West, are giving up two nights of their Hanukkah gifts for Sandy victims. "They're going to be very happy to see other people and other children smile," Greenhut said.
Another Jewish social services organization, Syosset-based FEGS, is urging people to donate hats, gloves, scarves, socks and toys for storm victims, especially during the holiday.
"Hanukkah gives people a jumping off point to help in different ways," said Kathy Rosenthal, a vice president with the group.
Hanukkah's roots go back more than 2,000 years, when Jewish warriors retook control of the Temple of Jerusalem from the Greek rulers of Asia Minor. Inside, they found oil that they used to relight a menorah. Legend has it one night's worth of oil burned for eight days, leading to another Hanukkah theme: miracles.
Technically, Hanukkah is not a major Jewish holiday, and attendance at synagogue is not required. But it is widely observed and popular, partly because it falls in the Christmas season amid general gift-giving, said Rabbi Jonathan Hecht, a former president of the Long Island Board of Rabbis.
It will start with the lighting of menorahs Saturday night after sunset. Each night one candle is lit, until all eight are ablaze by the end of the holiday. The menorah contains one kindling candle.