Local congregation celebrates Hanukkah

  • Monday, December 22, 2014 10:32pm
  • News
Members of the Briat Elohim congregation gather to celebrate Hanukkah. (Submitted photo)

Members of the Briat Elohim congregation gather to celebrate Hanukkah. (Submitted photo)

This Hanukkah, members of the Briat Elohim Reform Jewish congregation are meeting to celebrate the holiday with friends and family. While the congregation is still growing, it has come a long way since its members first began meeting nearly 30 years ago.

Paula Bute, who helped organize the congregation, said she started looking for other Jews in the community soon after her son was born in 1979. In 1983 her family celebrated Hanukkah with another family for the first time and after the Passover Seder in 1985, she helped organize a congregation.

“We decided we wanted to have services, but we had no money and we had no building, so we formed a committee to approach churches to see if they would let us use their basements on Friday nights, which is usually not busy in churches,” Bute said.

Bute said that many church leaders had to talk to boards of governors or higher-ups for approval.

She said that out of the blue, they were offered space at Kenai’s Our Lady of the Angels Roman Catholic Church.

“All of a sudden, we got a call from Father Wells from the catholic church, whom we had not approached,” she said. “He contacted us and said ‘I hear you’re looking for a place to meet. I don’t have to ask anybody’s permission. You can start meeting here on Friday nights — for free.’”

The group continued to meet at the church for 15 years. In 2006, they acquired their own building on Echo Lake Road after a friend of a congregation member donated the property. Bute said the building has electricity, but is very small and currently has no running water. Despite the issues, the group is thankful for a place to call their own.

Briat Elohim member Alana Martin said the current building is not very big, so members usually meet at members’ houses when there is a party or holiday celebration. The group tries to meet once a month to have prayer meetings as well as discussions about a wide range of topics. She said that there are close to a dozen core families involved, so parties are usually pretty small.

“At holidays, we can get up to about 70 people, but that’s like the Super Bowl for us,” Martin said.

At Briat Elohim, many of the members are married to people of other faiths, so many of the people attending aren’t Jewish.

“Everyone is welcome,” Martin said. “We don’t have a screening process, or show us your Jewish card or anything like that.”

As for this Hanukkah, Martin said the party won’t be extravagant.

“We have a potluck, we light menorahs, we sing songs,” Martin said. “We usually have a gift exchange, but this year we’re going to, instead, have a canned food drive for the local food bank.”

Martin said that it’s nice having everyone get together. She said even the children get into the holiday spirit.

“My 4-year-old is the dreidel master. I keep joking that I’m taking him to Vegas,” she said.

In the future, members of Briat Elohim would like to improve their building and use it more often. And while they seldom use their building, they are happy still to meet with each other and with people of all religions and beliefs.

“(Everyone gets) to know about other cultures and other beliefs and that’s wonderful,” Bute said. “We all enjoy it, because we all learn a lot from each other.”


Reach Ian Foley at ian.foley@peninsulaclarion.com.

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