In the News

MIRACLE MILESTONE: Shma Koleinu marks 10 years with festive Chanukah celebration and proclamations

By S. Sara Tubbs | JHV•
Thu, Dec 14, 2023
At the Evelyn Rubenstein JCC’s Merfish Teen Center, more than a dozen menorahs were glowing, latkes and sufganiyot were going and champagne was flowing.

As Jews all over the world spent the week commemorating the miracle of Chanukah, Congregation Shma Koleinu was reveling in its own miracle of sorts. A decade ago, on Dec. 6, 2013, the innovative “Synagogue Without Walls” held its very first Chanukah Shabbat service at the Merfish Teen Center.

To mark this milestone, many of CSK’s participants (preferring “participants” over “members”), including those who were there from Day 1, gathered in the Merfish’s ballroom-turned sanctuary on erev Shabbat, which also was the second night of Chanukah. Together they sang, danced, rejoiced and reflected on the congregation’s remarkable accomplishment.

“It’s all about the community and volunteer spirit that helped bring CSK to fruition,” Rabbi Scott Hausman-Weiss, CSK’s founding rabbi, told the JHV.

“It’s all about a different model. There’s no building, and that’s by design. Ten years later, we are still thriving and growing. This is just an amazing opportunity to recognize what we’ve done.”

That positive acknowledgement also came from beyond the CSK community. During the Dec. 8 erev Shabbat service and celebration, Texas State Rep. Ann Johnson, Dist. 134, presented the congregation with a resolution. Proclamations also were bestowed earlier in the week from Harris County Precinct 4 Commissioner Lesley Briones, U.S. Congresswoman Lizzie Fletcher and Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner, who proclaimed Dec. 6, “CSK Day.”

“To see that we are being recognized and celebrated, especially in the wake of what is happening in Israel, I think has made it even more profound,” Tiffany Halfon, CSK Program and Operations manager, told the JHV.

“But also, by receiving these proclamations, these officials are saying, ‘Thank you’ to us, too, for being here for our community.”

Rabbi Hausman-Weiss echoed Halfon’s sentiment during the service. He said he appreciates the support and comfort by leaders who may not have expressed this in a different world.

Between Shabbat prayers and chants, the audience sang as the band played holiday tunes including “Oh, Chanukah,” “I am a Latke” and “The Dreidel Song.” The lively atmosphere continued with the “Chanukah Rap” and cheers as the Inertia Dance Company from Westside High School hit the dance floor with some fresh breakdance moves.

“It’s a time of joy, festivity and celebration that has an even more heartfelt meaning right now,” said participant Margi Levin, who has been involved with CSK from the very beginning. She has helped the congregation grow into what it is today.

“It’s tremendous,” said Levin. “We are like the little synagogue that could. It’s a concept that no one thought would be able to sustain. Not only has it sustained, but it has also thrived.

“When you think about CSK, you think about the lifecycle of events – of kids who went to Sunday school with us, had their Bar and Bat Mitzvahs with us, and now they are calling Rabbi Scott thinking about their next iteration of life. I am so proud to see it grow, and I am looking forward to what the next 10 years will bring.”

Read this article at Jewish Herald Voice