Melodious vocal performances on Sunday morning at Bet Shira synagogue in South Miami prepared for the Jewish celebration of Hanukkah.
Bet Shira, which translates to “House of Song,” stayed true to its namesake and hosted its first Hanukkah zimriyah — or song festival — to mark the beginning of the holiday season before it began Tuesday evening. Students from the congregation’s Jewish Learning Center performed a variety of Hanukkah songs in both Hebrew and English as members clapped along.
“The zimriah is a festive way to celebrate the holiday of Hanukkah and it fits in with the culture of this organization,” said Ella Levy, the director of congregational learning.
Music has helped carry Jewish tradition and heritage through centuries. More often than not, blessings and prayers are sung at services. Holidays such as Hanukkah also have a rich musical tradition.
“There are many songs in Hanukkah and this is one of the ways we can celebrate,” Bet Shira Rabbi Mark Kula said.
For a month, students in the synagogue’s pre-K through seventh grade programs practiced under the direction of Cantor Shiree Kidron, who taught the students Hanukkah favorites such as “The Dreidel Song” and “Mi Yemalel.”
“They had a lot of excitement learning the songs,” Kidron said.
She worked with students to learn more than just tunes and choreography. Practices also delved into the significance of the holiday, which celebrates the Jews regaining control of the Temple of Jerusalem. The story goes that after their victory, the Jews searched the temple for oil to light the menorah and were only able to find enough to last a day. But miraculously, the small amount of oil kept the menorah lit for eight days.
Kidron says the rehearsals have helped the students realize what miracles mean to them.
“It is always beautiful and pure to hear what children have to say about miracles,” Kidron said.
As they practiced, the songs also let the students feel connected to their spirituality.
“Through rehearsal, the students learned about the importance of music and the story of Hanukkah,” Kidron said. “They got to have an experience encoded in their identity.”
Students were all smiles as they took the stage to perform for the congregation. The younger students donned paper hats with dreidels, a four-sided spinning top game played on Hanukkah.
“We are filling our sanctuary with song, love and light,” the rabbi told members as he introduced the students.
“There is a tremendous pride watching the children,” Kula said. “Seeing them sing lets them know that Judaism and the traditions will be carried on to the next generation.”
“We look forward to many more musicals,” Kidron said.