Hanukkah Cheer at Congregation Kol Shalom
Congregation Kol Shalom in Annapolis celebrates Hanukkah, rich history.
"Would you like to be a cleaner-upper? Here, take a rag," said Jennifer Rudick Zunikoff, proffering her make-believe rags and brooms to her audience of 3- to 6-year-old children, and their parents.
Zunikoff was performing a story session as part of Hanukkah celebrations at the Congregation Kol Shalom held on Dec. 5 in Annapolis.
A cheerful, slender woman with a pleasing demeanor and an engaging style, Zunikoff led her mesmerised audience through a couple of stories revolving around the Hanukkah theme.
Zunikoff came into her line of work rather serendipitously. Zunikoff majored in journalism at the University of Maryland, College Park.
In 1994, she happened to be working a part-time job as a tour guide in a suburb of St. Paul, MN. Her job involved talking about Halloween celebrations at the turn of the century to tourists.
Once, after listening to her speak, one of the volunteers in the program remarked that Zunikoff was the best storyteller she had ever heard.
It turned out to be Zunikoff's "a-ha" moment.
"That was the first time I thought of myself as a storyteller," said Zunikoff.
The Reistertown, MD, resident has been telling stories to audiences in America and abroad for more than 15 years.
"I teach about Judaism through my stories," she stated.
Becoming Kol Shalom
The Kol Shalom shul or temple is located on Hidden Meadow Lane, about half a mile from Westfield Annapolis mall. The neighborhood is quiet and peaceful. The building is set in a slightly wooded area on a low incline.
The temple was established in 1977 and serves as the principal place of worship for conservative Jews in Anne Arundel County. According to the congregation's rabbi, Philip Pohl, 125 families or membership units are registered with the temple.
The congregation was earlier called Kol Ami. The name change to Kol Shalom (meaning "voice of peace" in Hebrew) occurred two years ago, when Kol Ami merged with the conservative congregation Nevey Shalom in Bowie. A word was taken from each congregation's name to form the new merged congregation, said Sharon Pohl, the rabbi's wife.
The Bowie congregation was made up of older congregants. There were more of the younger set in the Annapolis congregation, said Helaine Betnun, who has worshipped at Kol Ami and then Kol Shalom for many years.
The merger of the two congregations made for a larger group under one roof. Kol Ami in Annapolis had a great location and worship space, but only an interim rabbi who travelled from New York for services. Rabbi Pohl, who was then Nevey Shalom's rabbi, became the spiritual leader of the merged congregation in Annapolis.
"It was like combining two households. We all benefited," said Betnun.
Worship at the Temple
A large room with vaulted ceilings serves as the main worship area. Several rows of chairs were arranged in concentric semi-circles around a central space, from where the rabbi leads the worship.
The Jewish Sabbath begins at sundown on Friday and continues until sundown on Saturday. Sabbath services at Kol Shalom include a shorter Friday night service. The Saturday morning service, which includes a reading from the Torah, starts at 9:30 a.m. and goes until noon.
Since the Hanukkah celebrations were on a Sunday, it was permitted to take pictures inside the temple, said Betnun. Picture-taking would not have been allowed during Sabbath.
The History of the Scrolls
At one end of the room was the ark, which looked like a large built-in cabinet and was covered by white doors.
The ark housed five Torah scrolls, each covered with an ornately embroidered silk cloth. The main criterion for a scroll being used during worship is that it should not have any kind of blemish on it -- no tears or burn marks, explained Betnun as she opened the doors to the ark to allow a peek inside.
Open Torah scrolls with Hebrew verses on them were also on display behind glass cases flanking the ark.
These particular scrolls are not only of religious significance; they also have tortured histories behind them. They, and other similar scrolls, are remnants of the Holocaust and are considered memorial scrolls, said the rabbi. This means that they must not be opened for reading during services.
Some scrolls were saved by persecuted Jews at great personal risk to themselves. Others were actually saved by the Nazis, even as they extirpated Jews without compunction. The Nazis, who often understood the historic worth of these documents, wanted them for display in museums, said Betnun.
According to the rabbi, the scrolls that made it intact through the Holocaust were sent to a museum in London after World War II. The museum then distributed them to synagogues around the world for display as memorial scrolls. These particular memorial scrolls were possibly from the former Czechoslovakia, he said.
Hanukkah Festivities in the Temple
"The best way to enjoy Hanukkah celebrations? Grab a plate and get yourself something to eat," exhorted Ben Wiener.
Inside the main worship chamber, on one end, were long tables laden with food. There were trays upon trays -- jelly-filled cupcakes, chocolate and sugar-glazed mini-donuts, brownies, cranberry sauce, cheeses and large bowls of fruit. There were also golden brown latkes, a must-have at any Hanukkah feast.
"All the food is kosher," said Betnun.
Members of the congregation had cooked some of the foods; some had been purchased.
In one corner, a teenage girl did face-painting for kids. Elementary-age children sat at tables creating menorah artwork. Congregation member Andy Summers received appreciative remarks for his menorah shaped hat.
Forging Connections through Stories
A cat-loving bubbi and a lonely neighbor missing his Peshka; Rosalie Shmosalie, the oldest child among eight; the spunky storyteller Nurit; the wise elders and the unsure young ones; Hanukkah miracles happening in the here and now -- these are the stuff of Jennifer Zunikoff's stories.
The second storytelling session was billed as being for the 6 and older set, but almost all the adults joined in to listen as well.
After a couple of stories, Rabbi Pohl led the communal candle lighting. One by one, he lit six candles -- five candles for the fifth night of Hanukkah, and one central candle. Worshippers sang hymns in Hebrew and English, swaying gently.
Laura Kleiman, the chairperson of the religious school education committee, handed out gifts to the children - bags of chocolate gold coins and Hanukkah candies.
Zunikoff, concluding her stories, spoke of the importance of continuity and merging the stories of the old countries with Jewish life in the new land.
"Judging by the reaction tonight, the future of Judaism is in good hands," said Zunikoff, to nods of agreement from the adults in the audience.
For more holiday stories on Greater Annapolis Patch, click here.