James Mockler of Grey, center, was not happy with the view Sunday night from his seat with his mother and his bubbe (Yiddish for grandmother), so he found a better vantage point in the middle of the center aisle at Beth Abraham Synagogue in Auburn during the annual Chanukah celebration. Members of the congregation were presenting an original performance of “The Problem with the Pretzel” before going outside to light the giant menorah. (Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal)

AUBURN — The Lewiston-Auburn Jewish community came together Sunday night for its annual Temple Shalom Chanukah Party, sharing humor and light.

This year’s party featured a performance of an original play, performed by nine student’s from the temple’s Hebrew School.

The play, written every year by Rabbi Sruli Dresdner’s wife, Lisa Mayer Dresdner, took the audience to a place familiar in Jewish folklore: Chelm, a town of fools.

This year’s play, “The Problem with the Pretzel,” follows the adventures of the town residents as they try to figure out why a persistent sneeze follows them. The story follows the trajectory of the Jewish folklore surrounding the stories of Chelm, and Mayer Dresdner said it helps the students form a connection with their Jewish traditions.

“It’s a town that exists in Poland,” Mayer Dresdner said. “The kids embody the roles. There are characters in it that repeat — there’s always the rabbi, there’s always Beryl and Shmeryl, the fools, but it’s fun, and the kids, for the rest of their lives, are going to have a real connection with this mystical tale.”

Rabbi Dresdner said for a Jewish child in Lewiston-Auburn, forming those roots is vital for them to feel like they belong in the community.

“It’s not always easy to be a Jewish child in a place like Lewiston or Auburn, Maine, not because people aren’t welcoming — they are more than welcoming — but you do sometimes feel like an outsider,” Dresdner said.  

“To have a special holiday like Hanukkah, while everyone is observing Christmas, is very special.”

 After the play, the children led the singing of traditional Hanukkah songs. After the service, the audience went outside, where  the Rev. Dr. Jodi Cohen Hayashida, minister at First Universalist Church in Auburn, lit a large menorah.

Rabbi Dresdner said he asks a member of the community to light the menorah every year, as a way to honor those who serve the temple and enable those who worship there to feel safe and secure.

But this year, Dresdner said he chose to have a local faith leader light the Menorah, in part because of the outpouring of local support that followed the October Temple of Light massacre in Pittsburgh.

“This year, the outpouring of support from area churches following the massacre at the synagogue in Pittsburgh was so powerful,” Dresdner said. “Jodi was a great part of that. She’s always been a friend of the temple, but now she’s a very special friend.”

Dresdner said the celebrations and festivities of Hanukkah are a welcome return to normalcy for the temple.

“Hanukkah has always been our opportunity to show the world we’re proud to be Jewish,” Dresdner said.

In the main lobby of the Temple, two bulletin boards are covered with letters and cards from the community — from as far away as the Wells High School Civil Rights Society.

Dresdner said letters and cards started to come immediately after the tragedy, and the temple continues to receive them today.

“It makes us feel like we are a loved and valued part of the community,” Dresdner said, “and people want to seek us out and connect with us, not just as people but as a Jewish community.”

As the Jewish celebration ends Monday, Dresdner said, the pride and joy the Jewish community feels, despite the recent national tragedy, is palpable.

“We light our menorahs in public spaces, and we share our lights with others,” he said. “Our lights mingle with other lights. This year, it’s so meaningful to gather our community together, light our menorah and share our light.”

 

James Mockler of Grey, center, was not happy with the view Sunday night from his seat with his mother and his bubbe (Yiddish for grandmother), so he found a better vantage point in the middle of the center aisle at Beth Abraham Synagogue in Auburn. Young James steals the show as Rebbetzin Lisa Mayer, left, presents her original play, “The Problem with the Pretzel,” during the annual Chanukah celebration. Members of the congregation performed the play before going outside to light the giant menorah, followed by more music and food. (Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal)

The Rev. Dr. Jodi Cohen Hayashida, minister at First Universalist Church, center in purple hat, is a blur as she lifts the final menorah candle Sunday night in this long exposure at Temple Shalom in Auburn during the annual Chanukah celebration. (Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal)