It was a triple celebration as nearly 80 people gathered in Freehold Dec. 22. The candles were lit on a giant menora to mark the third night of Hanukka, members of Congregation Kol Am were there to celebrate a decade since their synagogue’s founding, and everyone paid tribute to the Jewish Heritage Museum of Monmouth County — where the festivities took place — in honor of its fifth anniversary.
Outside the museum — which is housed in an early-19th-century barn that was once part of the historic Levi Solomon Farm — participants first joined together in holiday songs, which had been prepared by Kol Am’s religious school students in grades five-seven. After lighting the large outdoor menora and reciting the blessings, led by Kol Am’s Rabbi Brooks Susman, the group entered the museum and filed upstairs to the “Hayloft Stage” for a performance of Hanukka favorites by the Kol Am adult choir.
Museum staff members were on hand to explain the interactive games that were available for the children and to answer questions regarding the museum’s current exhibit: a display of images highlighting “The Jewish Experience in Pictures.” The event was free and open to the public.
“It’s a nice partnership between the museum and Kol Am in celebration of the unity of the holiday,” said museum copresident Michael Berman.
Both Kol Am and the museum nurture the appreciation of local Jewish history and encourage the creation of Jewish memories that will span generations, said Susman, Kol Am’s founding rabbi and a founding member of the museum. “What’s more appropriate than lighting a menora in front of the Jewish Heritage Museum? It is one of the most undiscovered and underappreciated treasures of the Monmouth County Jewish community.
“People go to Jewish museums in Manhattan,” he said, when they could stay in their home county “to marvel at the exhibitions held right in our own backyard.”
Kol Am, which was founded 10 years ago as a progressive Reform congregation serving the Freehold, Jackson, and Howell communities, now has 90 member families. Services are held at Calgo Gardens, a nursery and landscaping company in Howell, and the congregation’s religious school operates out of the historic Court Street School in Freehold Borough. Worshipers use an original prayer book, T’filat Kol Am, which was authored by Susman with editorial guidance from his congregation.
The Jewish Heritage Museum is dedicated to the promotion of public awareness of the county’s Jewish heritage. It presents exhibits, programs, and publications for adults and children that celebrate, preserve, explore, and illustrate the history of the Jewish residents of Monmouth County and their contributions to the community.