Thursday, 01 December 2016 15:54

Celebrate: Hanukkah and Kwanzaa Events in West Michigan

Written by  Elma Talundzic
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The Grand Menorah lighting ceremony in Grand Rapids' Calder Plaza. The Grand Menorah lighting ceremony in Grand Rapids' Calder Plaza. COURTESY PHOTO

Believe it or not, there’s more to the holiday season than just Christmas.

No, this isn’t a “war” on the Christian holiday — it’s just that there’s room for everyone at the table. In fact, the leaders of the Jewish Federation of Grand Rapids and the Black Arts & Cultural Center say that anyone is welcome to participate in their Hanukkah and Kwanzaa (respectively) celebrations. It’s a chance to understand another culture, to see what it’s like to live a different life than your own. Check it out.

The Jewish Federation of Grand Rapids
2727 Michigan St. NE, (616) 942-5553

The Jewish Federation of Grand Rapids has a whole lineup of open community events for the Hanukkah season.

“For nearly 70 years, the Jewish Federation has provided social services for the Jewish community and shared Jewish culture and arts with the greater West Michigan community” said Cathy Winick, director of donor relations at the JFGR.

Hanukkah (or Chanukah) is the Festival of Lights celebration of the re-dedication of the second Temple in Jerusalem.

“The story goes that a lamp holding a very tiny amount of oil burned miraculously for eight days,” said Winick. “We light a candle at sundown for eight nights and, symbolic to the oil, we dine on oily, greasy foods such as potato latkes, or sufganiyot, filled doughnuts.”

Come down to Calder Plaza to experience the traditional menorah lighting ceremony on a much larger scale. A special holiday menorah will be erected for the occasion.

“At sunset, during a night of Hanukkah, rabbis from the Chabad House will ceremoniously light a light, being raised on heavy lift equipment while reciting the traditional prayers in Hebrew” said Winick.

The Federation’s biggest Hanukkah event, however, is its traditional bowling party. People of all religions are welcome and invited to join in on the festivities. There will be games, dancing around the menorah, and plenty of sufganiyots and other foods to go around.

After the bowling party, on the same day, the Jewish Cultural Council is bringing in Joe Crookston, a New York folk singer who was part of the documentary “Blue Tattoo,” which is about a Holocaust survivor. The evening will be filled with music and a screening of the film.

Whether you typically celebrate Hanukkah or not, Winick encourages everyone to join in on the events.

“The actual recitation of the prayers as the candles, or oil lights, are lit are solemn moments,” said Winick. “The rest of the time is a jolly, jovial time of celebration. It is also a good time for someone who is not Jewish to see, even participate, in our customs in a casual, informal way.”

Hanukkah Events:

Chanukah Bowling Party
Fairlanes, 3335 Fairlanes Ave. SW
Dec. 11, 11:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m.

Cultural Council with Joe Crookston
East Grand Rapids Performing Arts Center, 2211 Lake Dr. SE
Dec. 11, 6:30-8:30 p.m., $15 adults, $5 college students

Latke Party
Chabad House, 2615 Michigan St.
Dec. 24, 8-10 p.m.

Grand Menorah Lighting Downtown
Calder Plaza, Grand Rapids
Dec. 28, 5-6 p.m., FREE


The lighting of the mishumaa saba, seven candles that represent the seven principles of Kwanzaa. Photo courtesy of the Black Arts & Cultural Center.

Black Arts & Cultural Center
359 S. Kalamazoo Mall, Suite 202, (269) 349-1035

The Black Arts & Cultural Center this year is holding three pre-Kwanzaa events, all back-to-back, during the month of December.

“BACC is a community resource whose job is to provide opportunities for black artists to showcase their artistry, and for the entire community to experience and be exposed to black arts and black culture,” said Yolonda Lavender, executive director at BACC.

Kwanzaa is a week-long celebration honoring African culture and traditions. BACC offers the opportunity for people to gather and celebrate, during Kwanzaa, and all year round.

“Kwanzaa means everything to me. I celebrate and practice the seven principles of Kwanzaa all year long,” Lavender said. “During the traditional time that Kwanzaa is celebrated, I enjoy spending time with family and celebrating each day of Kwanzaa recognizing and appreciating African American culture on a deeper level.”

To kick off the pre-Kwanzaa celebration, a film viewing will be held on Dec.15 at Public Media Network. “The Black Candle,” a Kwanzaa documentary, will be viewed and followed with a discussion.

Dec. 16 is the “RBG Party,” which stands for red, black and green — representing the colors of the Pan-African flag.

“Pan-African represents the unity of all people of African descent,” Lavender said, adding that the colors each stand for different ideas important to the Pan-African movement. “Red: The blood that unites all people of black African ancestry, and shed for liberation. Black: Black people whose existence as a nation, though not a nation-state, is affirmed by the existence of the flag. And green: The abundant natural wealth of Africa.”

The final event, on Dec. 17, is the Kwanzaa Bazaar. There will be vendors, performances, art and culture. The bazaar will provide the chance for the community to engage in the culture and purchase gifts for the holiday season.

Everyone is welcome and encouraged to join the BACC in the Kwanzaa events.

“The entire community should attend. These events are for everyone and I can’t stress that enough,” said Lavender. “It’s an opportunity for everyone to be educated and to learn. Learning about and understanding black culture is critical. Celebrating it is just as important.”

Pre-Kwanzaa Celebration:

The Black Candle
Public Media Network, 359 S. Kalamazoo Mall
Dec. 15, 5:30-8:30 p.m., FREE

RBG Party
Rootead, 4038 N. Westnedge Ave.
Dec. 16, 9 p.m.-1:30 a.m., $7/$10, 21+

Kwanzaa Bazaar
Epic Center, 359 S. Kalamazoo Mall
Dec. 17, 12-5 p.m., FREE ENTRY

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