Hanukkah celebration feels like a housewarming

Congregation Kol Ami fetes holiday for first time in its new synagogue

By Dave Kern, Columbian assistant metro editor

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photoWill Higgins, 11, from left, Asher Herrmann, 11, and Connor Finks, 12, play a dreidel game at a Congregation Kol Ami's Hanukkah celebration on Sunday. The party was in the congregation's five-month-old synagogue.

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photoRabbi Elizabeth Dunsker

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photoLorna Levi

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Congregation Kol Ami

What: Clark County's reform Jewish congregation.

Where: 7800 N.E. 119th St.

On the Web: Congregation Kol Ami.

Telephone: 360-896-8088.

For more than two decades, Congregation Kol Ami held its Hanukkah party in the basement of a church.

Not so on Sunday, as more than 150 members celebrated in their five-month-old $9 million synagogue on 119th Street.

“Total joy,” Rabbi Elizabeth Dunsker said of her mood. “This is the largest gathering we’ve ever had.”

Lorna Levi said having festivities in a synagogue “is a dream come true, and we’ve been cultivating that dream over 20 years.”

Levi and her husband, Julian, founded The Jewish Association of Southwest Washington in 1989 with six other couples. She called having their own place of worship “absolutely incredible.”

“It’s always been in the basement of a church,” Carly Berinstein, 17, said of the Hanukkah party. “This year, I’m so excited that we’re able to worship in (a synagogue).”

Berinstein, a Columbia River High graduate, attends Knox College in Galesburg, Ill.

Hanukkah is known as the Festival of Lights, light winning over darkness. It celebrates the Maccabean Victory, which was part of the Jewish fight for religious freedom in ancient days.

A candle is lit each night for eight days. And many menorahs were lit at the Kol Ami party.

Boys played with dreidels (tops) as a group of six women and girls sang Hanukkah songs. Latkes (potato pancakes) were on the banquet table.

Doug Green, the congregation’s vice president, said many Jews in Clark County are from big cities such as Los Angeles and New York. He grew up in Toronto and his wife, ­Barbara, is from Carle Place, N.Y., on Long Island.

“We’re extended family to each other,” Green

said of congregation members.

The synagogue sits on an 8-acre parcel. Its 200-seat sanctuary boasts a view of Mount St. Helens, and there’s also a 400-seat social hall, a six-classroom religious school, a four-office administrative center and a landscaped courtyard entryway. An organic garden to help stock local food banks is planned. Dunsker said 130 families worship at the synagogue.

Dunsker said, “At every large event, we always make sure that we are using our gathering to also help the world around us in some way. Tonight at our party we will also be collecting money to buy C-Tran bus passes for WHO (Winter Housing Overflow) clients, as well as men’s underwear and undershirts to donate.”

At the party, Izzy Epstein said congregation members are grateful to the First Congregational Church, where worship and activities were held before the synagogue was completed in August.

“They’re great people,” he said.

Watching candles being lit, Epstein said, “The candles have so many symbols.

“One candle can put a big dent in darkness.”

Asked how Dunsker is doing as rabbi, Epstein said. “She’s a human dynamo. Good with all age groups, and the children just love her.”