Traditional elements of the Jewish Festival of Lights, including dreidels, menorahs, chocolate gelt, and latkes — crispy fried potato pancakes — combined to aid the cultural celebration. The celebration, dubbed “Menorahs and Miracles,” is one of seven the museum holds each year, recognizing the myriad of colorful cultures that exist in Silicon Valley and their various traditions.
Marilee Jennings, the museum’s director said the gatherings are a fun way for families to show kids how to appreciate the differences of people around the world.
“Today’s young parents realize that we live in a very global world and they are very anxious to expose their kids to other cultures very early on in life,” she said.
The events also serve as a way to highlight cultural touchstones for youth in the city.
“If you’re new to this country, or part of a cultural community, you’ve left your homeland, it’s a way to show your children how they were connected,” she said.
That’s exactly why Gali Shapira — who lives in Silicon Valley but is originally from Israel — brought her 4-year-old son Shani to the museum.
“For my children, it’s a place to feel there is a community that celebrates the holiday that not everyone is celebrating,” she said of Hanukkah.
She brings her kids to the event, “to make them feel the same way we feel in Israel,” where the majority of people celebrate the holiday.
Shani said he enjoys coming to the museum regularly, but Sunday, while standing just around the corner from the museum’s mammoth fossils exhibit, he was enjoying a special treat — a latke dipped in sour cream, some of which found its way onto his cheeks.
Many others at the museum said the event is an upbeat way to help connect people from different backgrounds.
Dan Simon, of San Jose, was watching and helping his 4-year-old Max make a clay dreidel in the upstairs art loft of the museum.
He said the celebration helps his kids “understand that Judaism isn’t just something you practice in the home, or in Hebrew school.”
“I’m making a dinosaur dreidel with a dinosaur on top,” Max said, while holding up his near-completely formed clay dreidel.
Jennings, the director, said even though this celebration has been running for a few years, it holds extra significance following examples of anti-semitism seen of late in America, including the deadly shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, and the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017.
“The best way to combat this hatred is to start with children,” Jennings said.
“Children who grow up together, and grow up with a sense of cultural appreciation for people who may be different than you are, that’s the answer to a future that is more peaceful than today,” she said.
To that end, the museum created a paper ring menorah on a wall in its Central Park area, where children were encouraged to write or draw something that makes them happy, or something they think brings light into the world.
The rings were strung together along the outlines of a menorah taped onto a wall. Jacob Timmins, 4, of Saratoga, was with his dad Shelley Timmins, and he drew a ring for the paper chain.
“A snail, with me riding on it. I was on top of the snail,” Jacob said with a big smile. Timmins said the kids came last year to this event and requested to come back this year because they liked it so much.
Other activities at the museum Sunday included songs from youth choirs, storytime with a Rabbi, a candle making station, and a Hanukkah Menorah lighting to cap the afternoon celebrations.
While many Jewish families came out to connect with their heritage, the museum, as usual, drew many kids and adults from a variety of backgrounds.
Rachael Wong, of Gilroy, was with her sons Colin, 9 and Ethan, 7, who were wagering chocolate coins, or gelt, while playing dreidel with a volunteer.
“We literally left catechism and came to Hanukkah,” Wong said with a laugh. “That’s important to us, to learn and celebrate everybody’s cultures.”
“The more that we know about other people, the more that we can honor and celebrate each other and bring the world closer together,” she said.
“We’re all people, right?”