Menorahs made of bullet casings launch Hanukkah in Folsom

Aiden Rashidi, 8, of Folsom signs a Menorah he made out of bullet shells and wood along with other children during a workshop on Sunday, Dec. 6, 2015, at Folsom Community Center.
Aiden Rashidi, 8, of Folsom signs a Menorah he made out of bullet shells and wood along with other children during a workshop on Sunday, Dec. 6, 2015, at Folsom Community Center.

Several dozen children lined up in Folsom on Sunday to craft menorahs – traditional Jewish candle holders – out of bullet casings to launch the first night of Hanukkah.

“See the amazing Bullet-Shell Menorah of Peace made out of remnants of war!” That was the sales pitch made by Rabbi Yossi Grossbaum. Nine bullet casings were glued to wooden menorahs assembled from pieces of wood cut on the spot.

One of the candles – the shammus, or “servant” candle – is used to light each of the other eight, which represent the number of days in the Festival of Lights. On the first day, the shammus lights the first candle on the right, on the second day the first two candles on the left, and so forth through the eight day, Dec. 13 this year, when all eight Hanukkah candles are lit.

Bullet casings, it turns out, “are a perfect fit for Hanukkah candles,” said Grossbaum, director of the Chabad Jewish Community Center of Folsom.

The bullet-shell menorahs “symbolize the transformation of weapons of destruction for peaceful purposes,” said Grossbaum, a master of colorful symbolism.

Grossbaum said the bullet-shell menorahs offer a particularly timely message of peace, a central theme of Hanukkah, which commemorates the rededication of the Jewish temple after it had been defiled by the Greeks and Syrians in 139 BCE. Mattathias the Hasmonean and his son, Judah Maccabee, led a revolt and reclaimed the temple but discovered there was only one small flask of undefiled oil to light the temple’s menorah for one night.

Miraculously, the oil lasted for eight days, enough time for the Jews to make fresh oil, Grossbaum explained. “So today we celebrate Hanukkah for eight days, a commemoration of the victory of the few over the many, the weak over the mighty, those who trusted in God versus those who opposed them.”

The casings used Sunday were obtained from a local gun shop and have no traces of gunpowder, Grossbaum said.

Still, the bullet-shell menorah packed a powerful wallop. “This is what these casings should be used for, to bring light to the darkness,” said Sorele Brownstein of Davis, who was there with four of her seven sons. While several holidaygoers had to look twice at the casings, Juliana Weinstein and Rachel Nathanson, both 10, had a great time assembling their menorahs and gluing on the casings. “It’s an amazing way to express your imagination and feelings towards Hanukkah and what happened long ago,” Juliana said.

“We made 50 of them,” said Scott Nathanson, a computer programmer from Roseville who supervised the project. “This is a much better use of bullet casings.”

Along with bedazzled dreidels – another twist on an old tradition made by kids using sparkles – Sunday’s celebration featured funny Hanukkah songs such as “Oy Vey Blues” and the smell of potato latkes, donuts and falafel fried in oil.

For each day of Hanukkah, you light an extra candle, “because when it comes to goodness and kindness, we can’t be happy with what we did yesterday; tomorrow we have to do a little bit more good,” Grossbaum said. “It’s a sign of life and growth.”

It’s important for everyone to light the menorahs, whatever they’re made out of, for all eight nights, Grossbaum said. “Every extra point of light dispels a little more darkness and helps make this world a better place.”

Stephen Magagnini: 916-321-1072, @StephenMagagnini