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FOR THE KIDS : Events Illuminate Jewish Tradition : A menorah-making contest, musical programs and special services are among events marking the Festival of Lights.


If you're celebrating Hanukkah this year, there's more for the kids than eight nights of candle-lighting, gift-giving and the traditional potato latkes.

Even if your family is not Jewish, children can get a glimpse of Jewish culture at a slew of events around the county--everything from a zany, musical production about the holiday to the lighting of a giant 20-foot menorah.

The eight-day holiday begins Sunday and celebrates the ancient victory of the Maccabees over the Syrians, who wanted the Jews to give up their religion and become assimilated. The lighting of the menorah commemorates a miracle after the Jews had recaptured their temple: a day's worth of oil kept the menorah burning for eight days.

The story takes a comical spin when the Shpieler Troupe performs "Hanukkah Lights" on Dec. 4 at Temple Beth Torah in Ventura. This family show begins at 11:30 a.m. and is geared for kids 4 and older, as well as adults.

For openers, the Los Angeles troupe belts out "Hooray for Hanukkah" to the tune of that old chestnut, "Hooray for Hollywood." From there, it's on to the crazy Mac and the Bees--complete with silly antennas--who weather the pressures of the encroaching Christmas holiday by better understanding their own Jewish heritage.

Then the troupe, two men and two women, go back in time to the events that led to the Hanukkah celebration, the battle scene and the search for oil, which leads to some humorous audience participation. The show has its serious moments, too. It ends with the lighting of the menorah and Peter Yarrow's song, "Light One Candle."

The hourlong show was created by the troupe, which has performed it for five years throughout Los Angeles, in other parts of California and out of state. They also wrote some of the songs and have included some written by Debbie Friedman, whose religious music is well known.

While people are at Temple Beth Torah for the performance, they can also see the results of an unusual contest. For the first time, the temple invited its families to enter a menorah-making competition. Awards will be given that day for most colorful menorah, funniest, most ecological, most spiritual, most creative, smallest, largest and so on.

There were no restrictions on what materials to use or the size, according to Tamara Lawson, who runs the temple's Torah School. One entry, she said, is made of Legos.

Temples around the county have Hanukkah services and celebrations geared especially for families. Temple Beth Torah's service will be Dec. 2 at 7 p.m.

At Temple Etz Chaim, 1080 E. Janss Road, Thousand Oaks, a Hanukkah celebration will be held Sunday at 5 p.m. Menorahs will be lighted, children will sing, Yossi Levy's Band will perform, and traditional Jewish food--latkes and applesauce--will be served. A family service will take place at 5 p.m. Dec. 2 at the temple.

At Temple Adat Elohim, 2420 E. Hillcrest Drive, also in Thousand Oaks, a special Hanukkah musical program, "Miracles Aren't Just Magic II," will be presented at 7 p.m. Dec. 2. Several members of the temple will be featured in the performance, which will be followed by latkes and applesauce.

Simi Valley's Congregation B'nai Emet will have a children's Hanukkah service at 7:30 p.m. Dec. 2 at 4645 Industrial St. On Dec. 4, a Hanukkah party from 1 to 4 p.m. will include music, crafts, a play and food.

For a different perspective on the holiday, Brian Bemel will be telling Hanukkah stories at Adventures for Kids bookstore, 3457 Telegraph Road, Ventura, from 6:45 to 7:15 p.m. Dec. 1. Bemel, who lives in Ojai, is also a teacher and involved in bringing performing artists into county schools.

Hanukkah will be at the malls, too. Chabad of the Conejo will hold a Hanukkah festival from 7 to 8 p.m. Dec. 1 in the Robinsons-May court at the east end of The Oaks mall, where a 20-foot menorah will be lighted. The event will include Jewish music, a children's show with clowns, jugglers, magician, and dreidels for the kids. Latkes will also be served.

Chabad of Ventura will have similar festivities at 6 p.m. Sunday at the Buenaventura Mall in Ventura.

The group will also hold a candle-lighting ceremony and children's program in Ojai from 6 to 7 p.m. Dec. 4 at the Jack Boyd Community Center, 510 Park Road.

Kids can see just how puppets and marionettes work from a longtime pro Saturday at the Camarillo Art Center. John England will bring his cast of handmade characters in for an 11 a.m. program that also includes a workshop on how to make a little puppet.

England, who lives in Ventura, has created his own puppets since he was 10, and since then he has worked with all phases of the art, from staging to scripts.

For 10 years, he traveled the country giving seminars on how to use puppets in education. In addition to local performances, he now works as a technical director and cameraman when the city of Camarillo videotapes meetings.

For his Saturday program, England will perform traditional tales and original skits with his puppets. The cost is $3 for children, free for adults. The center is at 3150 Ponderosa Drive. For information, call 445-7061.


* WHAT: "Hanukkah Lights," by the Shpieler Troupe.

* WHERE: Temple Beth Torah, 7620 Foothill Road, Ventura.

* WHEN: Dec. 4, 11:30 a.m.

* COST: Advance tickets are $7 for adults, $4 for children under 16, under 2 free. At the door, $9 for adults and $6 for children.

* CALL: 647-4181.

* ETC.: The performance is a benefit for the temple's Torah School.

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