Cans Take on Religious Meaning at Hanukkah

Posted on 17 December 2009


On Saturday evening inside Vered Gallery in East Hampton, Rabbi Leibel Baumgarten of Chabad East Hampton led a large gathering through the Havdalah ceremony, which marks the conclusion of the Jewish Sabbath. And with this being the second night of Hanukkah, candles were lit to mark that occasion as well. But rather than sitting in a traditional Menorah, these candles were burning atop a Canorah, a carefully stacked collection of food cans built into the shape of a Menorah.

In fact, there were seven Canorahs of varying shape and design scattered throughout Vered, each one built by a different shul, synagogue or temple on the East End — the Jewish Center of the Hamptons, Chabad of Southampton, Chabad of East Hampton, Temple Adas Israel, The Conservative Synagogue of the Hamptons, Temple Israel of Riverhead and The Hampton Synagogue of Westhampton.

The Canorah project was organized by Rabbi Baumgarten and his wife, Goldie, as a way to support local food pantries during Hanukkah — the season of light.

“We decided it’s one way to help,” says Rabbi Baumgarten. “Hanukkah represents light — freedom from oppression. One little light dispels darkness. We felt through Hanukkah we can add light and feed the hungry.”

Rabbi Baumgarten notes that he has witnessed first hand the need for help on the East End. Since the financial meltdown, he says he has received many calls from people who are struggling to make ends meet, but often ashamed to admit their circumstances.

Over 500 cans of food were incorporated into Chabad East Hampton’s Canorah — and that food will help stock the shelves at the East Hampton Food Pantry when the Canorahs come down this Sunday at the conclusion of Hanukkah.

Though helping to feed the hungry is not a new mission for the East End Jewish organizations, what is new this time around is the fact that the Orthodox, Conservative and Reform organizations all collaborated.

“We all do food drives all the time, but there hasn’t been a movement wide project together,” says Leah Oppenheimer, director of the Hebrew School at Temple Adas Israel in Sag Harbor. “All the movements coming together is unheard of.”

Oppenheimer and her students worked together to create the temple’s Canorah and she explains that helping others is a key component in her curriculum.

“We don’t use books, we learn through doing,” says Oppenheimer. “Any time I can get kids to think about other people, that’s a good thing.”

Oppenheimer adds that she often talks to her students about the need to take care of others in the community, regardless of their faith or ethnic background.

“The kids know this quite well and have heard it a hundred times,” says Oppenheimer. “Being a stranger in a new community is a terrible thing and we are obligated to take care of our neighbors.”

 “Everybody’s aware there are a lot of people struggling right now,” adds Oppenheimer. “Some at the temple are also volunteers at food pantry, and they can’t believe the need they see going through the door right now.’

Kids are always more aware of what’s going on around them than adults give them credit for, and Oppenheimer notes that they are not immune to noticing the difficult financial issues that are currently facing many in the community. She adds that when the Hebrew School collected coats for the Southampton Tire Center soup kitchen, near the 7-Eleven on North Main Street where day laborers gather in search of work, the kids were keenly aware of who they were helping.

 “Every kid in school has ridden past that intersection and seen the tire center soup kitchen,” says Oppenheimer. “They see those people out there are cold. It’s very personal to all of them.”

“We’re reminding kids to imagine what its like to be others.”

What the kids have learned through building the Canorah is not only the need to help those in the community who are hungry, but a little Hebrew as well. Instead of opting for a traditional menorah design, Oppenheimer and her students, who will give their food to the Sag Harbor Food Pantry come Sunday, decided to send a message for the season through their Canorah.

“We spelled ‘Shalom’ in Hebrew — which means both peace and hello,” explains Oppenheimer.

The Canorah also has a special portion that was constructed with Campbell Chicken Noodle Soup cans and inspired by the temple’s associate board member Mindy Cantor.

“She’s an art historian, and she wanted to do a tribute to Andy Warhol,” explains Oppenheimer.

The Canorahs will be remain on view at Vered Gallery (68 Park Place Passage, East Hampton) through Sunday, December 20. A special reception will be held this Saturday, December 19 from 7 to 9 p.m. at the gallery and visitors are asked to bring along a donation for the food pantries. 

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