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Hanukkah’s ancient traditions are blended with modern fun at ‘Wonderland’ in North Buffalo

It wouldn’t be Hanukkah without crispy fried latkes, but bounce houses and inflated obstacle courses gave a modern spin to an ancient religious celebration at “Chanukah Wonderland” on Sunday in the Knesset Center on Starin Avenue in North Buffalo.

The event has been held annually for the last few years, said Rabbi Moshe Gurary, of Chabad House, which has organized it. This year’s event drew about 150 people, including dozens and dozens of small children, the boys in yarmulkes and the beginnings of long locks of hair in front of their ears, the girls in long skirts and tights.

Besides the latkes – pancakes made of grated potato and egg – the food included doughnuts, wings and french fries, all significant because they are fried in oil.

“They are symbolic of the story of the oil,” Gurary said.

Hanukkah, the Jewish Festival of Lights, celebrates the Torah story of the miracle of the oil, when a small container of pure oil that would only light a menorah for one day provided enough fuel to light the lamp for eight days. Jewish children receive gifts, which included gelt, or small amounts of money, on each of the eight nights of celebration.

At Hanukkah, there is a great emphasis on education, Gurary said.

“The idea of giving Hanukkah gelt is to encourage interest in education,” he said. “It’s not just giving gifts out of entitlement.”

The final night of Hanukkah this year was Sunday.

Crafts, all with Hanukkah themes, included sand paintings of menorahs and dreidels and construction of candles from sheets of colored wax.

At the sand-painting table, Aydla Wechter peeled paper off the front of sticky images of menorahs so her 3-year-old twins, Chananya and Yisrael, could sprinkle colored sand over them. Wechter, who lives in Toronto, said her family has been attending Chanukah Wonderland for about five years.

“This is a highlight of our year, this Hanukkah party in Buffalo,” she said.

At the candle-making table, which was supervised by Rivkah Gurary, 10-year-old Avremel Kleyman used scissors to cut the soft sheets of colored wax and then press them into the shape of a candle.

Avremel said he was sorry to see Hanukkah end, and he planned to use the money he had received for buying “Legos probably, or Jewish books,” or maybe both. Then he turned his attention to a braided havdalah candle, which is lighted at the end of the Sabbath.

Bounce attractions ranged from a small enclosed structure where babies could play with balls and climb over small, soft obstacles to a large Leaps and Bounds game, which was filled with larger children lining up to take turns jumping onto inflatable mounds.