Festival of Lights Celebrated at the Commons

Hundreds turned out for the observance of the Jewish holiday commemorating religious freedom.


A Hanukkah celebration presented by the Calabasas Shul drew hundreds to the Commons of Calabasas Tuesday night for the traditional lighting of the Menorah, fireworks and the honoring of local heroes.

Now in its 15th year, the biggest event the synagogue puts on for the Calabasas community typically draws about 1,500 people, said Jon DaBach, general manager of the Calabasas Shul and assistant to Rabbi Yaakov Vann, who presided over the event.

“It celebrates one of the many miracles of Hanukkah when we only had enough oil for one night and it lasted for eight,” said DaBach. “In honor of that miracle, we enjoy oily foods like jelly donuts and latkes ... and we also burn candles.”  

One of the hallmarks of the event is the honoring of locals with the Heroes of Freedom award. This year’s honorees included several residents of Calabasas and the West Valley who are either currently in or just completing service in the Israeli Armed Forces.

“It was very special and incredible,” said Deborah Warshauer, whose son Ethan Snyder is currently in the midst of two years of service. “It’s such an honor to have our son recognized and for the community to come together to recognize all of the soldiers in Israel.”

Parents of absent soldiers were presented with plaques onstage before assisting with lighting four candles on the Menorah, representing the four days of Hanukkah, which began Dec. 8 and ends on Sunday.

While expressing gratitude to synagogue volunteers, the Commons at Calabasas management and others, Rabbi Vann offered “a special thanks to the City of Calabasas and its wonderful mix of people who care deeply about their community and have created a beautiful place to live.”

Every year, members of the Calabasas City Council join the temple in handing out the awards, and this year Mayor Pro Tem Fred Gaines donned a yamaka and addressed the crowd, expressing solidarity with the people of Sderot, Israel. “They are very kind and generous with their time,” said Dabach of the Calabasas City Council.

People still come up to Rabbi Vann to express gratitude for last year’s Heroes of Freedom awards, which went to the guard gates of the gated communities in Calabasas. “We use this event is to recognize people who are not normally recognized,” said Vann.

The event also included musical performances by Nefesh music and a group of students from Chaparral Elementary led by DaBach’s brother, Michael DaBach.  

“When the kids were up there singing, it was very nice,” said Caroline Shabtai of Encino, who was attending the celebration for the first time after discovering it while walking around the Commons.

Hanukkah literally translates into “dedication” in English and is about dedication to faith, culture, religion and the many miracles of G-d, including the triumph of the Jewish army known as the Maccabees over the Assyrian Greeks during an attempted forced conversion.

“We’re celebrating our own survival and well-being … but we feel that it’s also just a great time to have a celebration for anyone who wants to learn more ... come and celebrate it with us,” said DaBach. “... Calabasas is very supportive of the Jewish community.”

“Great weather, great feelings, great people,” said Rabbi Vann as he summed up the celebration. “When we see all these pieces come together, it’s such a special thing.”


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