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Suffolk Y in Commack brings Jews together for Hanukkah prelude

Bat-Sheva Slavin, Director for the Center of Jewish

Bat-Sheva Slavin, Director for the Center of Jewish Living, lights the Menorah, with the help of Talia Hayden, 5, and Nathan Buffalino, 4, during the Hanukkah Family Celebration at Suffolk Y Jewish Community Center, in Commack, on Dec. 14, 2014. Photo Credit: Heather Walsh

As the menorah candles burned, a children's entertainer sang about the Shamash -- the middle candle -- and the role it played in the eight-day ritual.

It was a prelude to Hanukkah, which starts Tuesday at sundown -- a way for about 200 parents and children to reconnect with the holiday's meaning, regardless of how observant they are during the year.

Many longtime members of the Suffolk Y Jewish Community Center in Commack had come , feasting on applesauce, latkes and doughnuts while others sought to forge new traditions.

"This is where all Jews come together," said Marci Sherman, the JCC's associate executive director.

The Hanukkah celebration, offered at the JCC since its founding in 1975, gives families "the opportunity to come to a safe, nonthreatening place to explore what it's like to be Jewish and what Hanukkah is about," she said.

Families danced as children's entertainer Janice Buckner sang lyrics explaining those traditions.

"If we can sneak in some education, all the better," Sherman said.

Many families described the event as an important tutorial for the children. Parents said they, too, appreciated the lessons.

"We learn a lot of new things and get excited to experience it through new eyes," said Lainie Lacey, 45, of Lake Grove, nodding to daughter Lily Mara, 4.

At the event, Robin Cullinan, of North Babylon, said while she is not from Commack, her daughter Autumn, 11, has no Jewish friends at her school.

"The kids get to meet other children of the same faith," she said, noting that when her children see Jewish traditions observed elsewhere in a group setting, "it solidifies what we do at home."

"We do our part to infuse fun, Judaic culture," said Sherman. "Especially during the saturation of Christmas; it gets lost."

Nicole Helfman, 33, of Commack, came with her family and has been attending the JCC since she was 5 years old. "Hanukkah is right around the corner, and this is a way to have our child see it's not just about presents," Helfman said. "It's about being part of the community."

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