Lighting the way: Jewish Congregation of Marco Island, community celebrates Hanukkah

Lance Shearer

The best thing about showing up at the Jewish Congregation of Marco Island (JCMI) for a Hanukkah celebration, or just about any celebration, is the certainty of tasty treats.
“Eat! Eat!” the JCMI chefs, and members of the congregation, tell visitors.

Latkes or potato pancakes are the signature food item, topped with applesauce and sour cream, but bakery items including rugalach, pound cake, and the jelly donuts known as sufganyot have a place at the table, along with the chocolate-filled coins with Hebrew inscriptions called Hanukkah gelt.

Rabbi Mark Gross talks with members of the congregation. The Jewish Congregation of Marco Island held a community-wide Hanukkah party Sunday evening at the temple, with all invited for the lighting of the menorah, followed by refreshments inside the sanctuary.

First, though, everyone sat outside for a few words and the lighting of the Hanukkah menorah, or ritual candelabra. About 100 congregation members, plus guests including four Marco Island city councilors and the president and chair of the Jewish Federation of Collier County, gathered Sunday evening at the temple on Winterberry Drive for a celebration of Hanukkah (or Chanukah), the Feast of Rededication, or Festival of Lights. JCMI Rabbi Mark Gross did the honors lighting the flames.

As Sunday marked the sixth evening of the eight-day Festival of Lights, six candles of the menorah were lit, along with the center flame, the “shamash” or servant flame. The shamash rises from the base, and serves to light the others. One more flame is lit each night of Hanukkah until all eight, plus the shamash, are lit.

Sue Baum, president of the JCMI congregation, welcomed the guests, and thanked the Jewish Federation for contributing to help repair damage to the temple’s lighting and trees. Rabbi Gross spoke of the significance of Hanukkah. It memorializes a war fought by ancient Judeans against the Seleucid empire, whose Emperor Antiochus, “a malignant narcissist who was so full of himself,”  attempted them to worship a statue of Zeus made in his own likeness.


“The king forbade the circumcision of infants, on pain of death. He forbade study of the Torah, on pain of death. This was the first war in history fought not for land or conquest, but for the principle of freedom of conscience and religion,” said Gross. “Our people rose up in rebellion,” and defeated the forces of oppression.

Hanukkah was a holiday celebrated by Jesus as he was growing up, said the rabbi.

The JCMI calendar is full of events in the New Year, including the Sidney R. Hoffman Jewish Film Festival, beginning on Jan. 14, a sold-out performance of the Atlantic City Boys on Feb. 1, and the Saul I. Stern Cultural Series, along with regular events each week.

The best-known and most heavily attended of those is the regular Monday night bingo game at JCMI. The next two weeks will be shifted to Wednesdays for Christmas and New Year’s Day, before returning to the regular Monday schedule, said Bernie Seidman.