‘Tis the season for celebration and tradition. The opening of Temple Concord’s 21st annual Hanukkah House Museum took place at 5 p.m. last Thursday. The synagogue’s seasonal museum, located at 9 Riverside Drive on the West Side of the city of Binghamton, aims to create a place to teach people about the history of Hanukkah and Jewish life in a creative and engaging way.
Temple Concord creates a new exhibit to be displayed at the museum every Hanukkah. This year, the responsibility of constructing the entire exhibit was given to Madison Jackson, a Binghamton University junior double-majoring in Judaic studies and English. Jackson interned with the synagogue this semester and spent two months researching and designing “Food for Thought: Exploring Jewish Food from Around the World.” The exhibition features Jewish recipes from six different continents, as well as more commonly known Jewish foods like challah and latkes.
The choice to focus on Jewish food for this year’s exhibit was inspired by a session that Jackson attended at last year’s Jewish Federations of North America General Assembly conference.
“I’m really interested in Jewish life around the world, and I’m really fascinated by the way the revival process of Jewish life in other countries is often cultural and revolves around something as simple as food,” Jackson said. “When it comes to bringing back Jewish life in other countries, food is something that ties all Jews together.”
In addition to the new exhibition, the museum features a few pieces that are present every year. These include three large, fully furnished dollhouses featuring miniature menorahs on tiny dining room tables. The dollhouses were donated by a former congregation member, Roberta “Bobbie” King, who was killed in the 2009 shooting at the American Civic Association in Binghamton.
There is also an annual exhibit about the history of the Kilmer Mansion, the Victorian-era mansion that Temple Concord used as their synagogue until 1964 when their current synagogue was built next to it. The Hanukkah House exhibitions are located in the Kilmer Mansion, and when the museum is open, tours of the mansion are available to the public.
Thursday night’s opening event was another of Temple Concord’s annual Hanukkah House traditions. Before turning on the 10-foot-tall electric menorah standing on the front lawn, those in attendance sang a few Hanukkah songs. A longtime member of the congregation, Shari Neuberger, a Vestal resident, has been leading the songs on her guitar at every opening since Hanukkah House first opened its doors in 1996. Songs with English lyrics, such as “Light One Candle,” and songs in Hebrew, such as “Sevivon Sov Sov Sov,” were both performed at this year’s opening.
At Hanukkah celebrations in the United States, it is common to serve latkes, a potato pancake fried in oil, but Temple Concord always serves sufganiyah — a jelly doughnut that is common in Israel where potatoes are harder to come by. Doughnuts are an appropriate replacement for latkes, since the most important part of dishes for this holiday is the fact that they’re fried in oil, which represents the holy oil that burned for the eight days of Hanukkah.
Visitors can see the dollhouses and Madison Jackson’s exhibition, as well as other Hanukkah-related displays, from now until Dec. 28. The Hanukkah House Museum is open from 12 p.m. to 4 p.m. on Tuesdays, Saturdays and Sundays, and 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. on Thursdays. Admission is free, but the synagogue suggests bringing a donation for its food pantry.