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The ‘Hanukkah House’ in Brooklyn is a family tradition and a neighborhood treasure



(New York Jewish Week) — Hanukkah, the winter holiday that commemorates the triumph of Judah Maccabee and the miracle of long-lasting oil, has plenty of heroes to celebrate. But in one Brooklyn family’s home, the hero is the “Hanukkah Fairy” — or at least the mom behind it. 

Starting some 25 years ago, Gail Nalven Fuchs and her husband, David Fuchs, stayed up late the night before Hanukkah began to completely decorate the interior of their Midwood house in tinsel, dreidels and blue and white decor. When their two kids awoke wide-eyed at the wonder, the Fuchs explained that the Hanukkah Fairy, who came to decorate and spread the light and joy of the holiday, had paid their house a visit. 

Over the years, what began as a lark grown into a grand tradition — these days, eye-catching, illuminated Hanukkah decorations can be found on the home’s exterior and front lawn, too, including an oversized menorah, Jewish stars and  inflatables, such as a giant teddy bear wearing a Hanukkah sweater and a spinning dreidel. The “Hanukkah House,” as it is locally known, is now a bonafide neighborhood treasure, attracting neighbors, visitors and children from around Brooklyn. 

Fuchs and her family pose in matching sweatshirts outside their decorated house. L-R: Michael, Charlie and Alyson Kogan; Harrison and Katie Bryan; David and Gail Fuchs.

The tradition of Hanukkah decorating started in 1997 when the Fuchs’ kids, Alyson and Harrison, were 7 and 5. It was one of the family’s favorite holiday traditions to drive through the neighborhoods of Bay Ridge and Dyker Heights, where family homes have been putting out over-the-top lights and Christmas decorations since the 1980s.

“Isn’t Hanukkah called the Festival of Lights?” her son, Harrison — the playwright for “A Hanukkah Carol, or GELT TRIP! The Musical,” a Jewish take on Charles Dickens’ Christmas classic — asked one year as they drove through Sheepshead Bay. Fuchs confirmed it was. 

“Then why don’t I see any Hanukkah lights?” he asked. “Everything is Christmas themed.”

Fuchs tried to explain to her son that even though the lights are Christmas themed, they are for everyone to enjoy. “He said, ‘I would enjoy it so much more. If I saw something that I know about. I don’t know about Christmas,’” she recalled.  

It was a moment of realization for Fuchs. “New Yorkers always say we live in a melting pot,” she told the New York Jewish Week. “It didn’t feel that way at Christmastime.”

In response to Harrison’s questions, she helped him pen a letter to the New York Post. “It’s very hard to be a 5-year-old Jewish boy at this time of year,” the letter, which was published in 1997, opens. “I get very sad when I am driving the car in Brooklyn and I look at all the lights and decorations hanging across the avenues.” Harrison then goes on to request more Hanukkah decorations in the years to come. 

The next year, a few weeks before Hanukkah, someone from the New York Post called to let Fuchs and her family know that there would be a large public menorah on Avenue U — sure enough, there it was. 

“We drove by and Harrison was so excited. He went home and drew the menorah with paint and we hung it on our wall and he would look at it every day.”

Harrison Bryan as a child in front of handmade Hanukkah art, alongside an excerpt of his letter he wrote to the New York Post in 1997. (Courtesy, design by Mollie Suss)

Seeing how happy her kids were when they saw their holiday represented, Fuchs decided to start decorating her home with dreidels, menorahs, candles, Hanukkah art and tinsel. Enter the Hanukkah Fairy, who Fuchs created to add a sense of magic and wonder to the holiday — and to surprise her young kids.

“Every year there were more and more Hanukkah decorations from the Hanukkah Fairy,” Fuchs said. “The kids used to write letters to her before the holiday saying ‘Hi Hanukkah Fairy, I hope you had a nice year, I cannot wait to see my home decorated this Hanukkah.’”

The exterior decorating began slowly: David Fuchs, who owns a handmade steel manufacturing and distribution business, built the giant menorah. Over the years, the “Hanukkah Elf,” as he’s known by his family, has since built Jewish stars and various signs for the house. They also try to add a Hanukkah-themed inflatable to their collection every year — this year’s newbie is a dinosaur wearing a Hanukkah sweater. 

Harrison and Alyson are now 30 and 32, respectively, but the tradition has carried on. To keep the Hanukkah spirit strong, the decorations typically start going up about a week before the holiday starts, and stay up until a week after it ends, Fuchs said. 

While Fuchs considers herself a Conservative Jew, many of her neighbors in Midwood are more traditionally Orthodox. Still, she’s noticed that many in the area are eager to take pics with the inflatables — some years, a school bus from a nearby yeshiva even stops in front of the house so kids can look. 

“I love sitting back on my porch — nobody sees me and I love watching all the people go by,” she said. “It’s just a joy.”

The Fuchs family has always celebrated Hanukkah to the nines —  four generations of the extended family gather at their home for a Hanukkah party, complete with a gift exchange  — and decorating the house has become one of their favorite parts of the holiday. Fuchs’ adult children will help decorate the house, and Alyson Fuchs now also puts up decor in her apartment in Carroll Gardens, where her two daughters, who are 2-and-a-half years old and 7 months old, now carry on the wonder and delight at the Hanukkah Fairy.

“We have Hanukkah pride,” she said. “But it’s not so much ‘Hey, I’m Jewish. Here’s my house, too.’ It’s ‘Hey, I have a holiday that’s really a lot of fun. Look how pretty it is.’”

It’s a tradition that’s become so important to the family that the “Hanukkah Fairy” even features in Harrison Fuchs’ new musical. “I really did believe in The Hanukkah Fairy,” Harrison, who uses the stage name Harrison Bryan, told the New York Jewish Week. “To me, this magical entity was just as real as the Tooth Fairy, or Santa to other kids. It was amazing waking up on Hanukkah morning — my sister and I would marvel at all the decorations — blue and white everywhere, and to such an extent that it felt impossible for this to have been done without actual magic.” 

“It was only when I got a little bit older that I realized, it was real magic — the magic of having incredibly imaginative parents who wanted their children to feel loved and proud of their cultural identity,” he added. 

Bryan made “The Hanukkah Fairy” a character in his musical — the fairy is the “Spirit of Hanukkah Present” who guides the Scrooge-like protagonist Chava Kanipshin through her actions. “Even though it may have been a tradition my parents made up, it was always meant to spark joy in others too,” Bryan added. “And with the show, alongside the Hanukkah Fairy, we hope to do just that.” 

Hanukkah starts this year on the evening of Sunday, Dec. 18, and Fuchs welcomes visitors to come by, enjoy the decorations and take pictures. Located in Brooklyn on East 14th Street between Avenues J and K, her house will be the one all lit up with Hanukkah gear. “You can’t miss it,” she said.

The post The ‘Hanukkah House’ in Brooklyn is a family tradition and a neighborhood treasure appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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Phyllis Pollock died at home Sunday September 3, 2023 in Winnipeg, after a courageous lifetime battle with cancer.
Phyllis was a mother of four: Gary (Laura), daughter Randi, Steven (deceased in 2010) (Karen), and Robert. Phyllis also had two grandchildren: Lauren and Quinn.
Born in Fort Frances, Ontario on February 7, 1939, Phyllis was an only child to Ruby and Alex Lerman. After graduating high school, Phyllis moved to Winnipeg where she married and later divorced Danny Pollock, the father of her children. She moved to Beverly Hills in 1971, where she raised her children.
Phyllis had a busy social life and lucrative real estate career that spanned over 50 years, including new home sales with CoastCo. Phyllis was the original sales agent for three buildings in Santa Monica, oceanfront: Sea Colony I, Sea Colony II, and Sea Colony. She was known as the Sea Colony Queen. She worked side by side with her daughter Randi for about 25 years – handling over 600 transactions, including sales and leases within the three phases of Sea Colony alone.
Phyllis had more energy than most people half her age. She loved entertaining, working in the real estate field, meeting new and interesting people everyday no matter where she went, and thrived on making new lifelong friends. Phyllis eventually moved to the Sea Colony in Santa Monica where she lived for many years before moving to Palm Desert, then Winnipeg.
After battling breast cancer four times in approximately 20 years, she developed metastatic Stage 4 lung cancer. Her long-time domestic partner of 27 years, Joseph Wilder, K.C., was the love of her life. They were never far apart. They traveled the world and went on many adventures during their relationship. During her treatment, Phyllis would say how much she missed work and seeing her clients. Joey demonstrated amazing strength, love, care, and compassion for Phyllis as her condition progressed. He was her rock and was by her side 24/7, making sure she had the best possible care. Joey’s son David was always there to support Phyllis and to make her smile. Joey’s other children, Sheri, Kenny, Joshua and wife Davina, were also a part of her life. His kids would Facetime Phyllis and include her during any of their important functions. Phyllis loved Joey’s children as if they were her own.
Thank you to all of her friends and family who were there to support her during these difficult times. Phyllis is now, finally, pain free and in a better place. She was loved dearly and will be greatly missed. Interment took place in Los Angeles.

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Local News

Gwen Centre Creative Living Centre celebrates 35th anniversary



By BERNIE BELLAN Over 100 individuals gathered at the Gwen Secter Centre on Tuesday evening, July 18 – under the big top that serves as the venue for the summer series of outdoor concerts that is now in its third year at the centre.
The occasion was the celebration of the Gwen Secter Centre’s 35th anniversary. It was also an opportunity to honour the memory of Sophie Shinewald, who passed away at the age of 106 in 2019, but who, as recently as 2018, was still a regular attendee at the Gwen Secter Centre.
As Gwen Secter Executive Director Becky Chisick noted in her remarks to the audience, Sophie had been volunteering at the Gwen Secter Centre for years – answering the phone among other duties. Becky remarked that Sophie’s son, Ed Shinewald, had the phone number for the Gwen Secter Centre stored in his phone as “Mum’s work.”

Raquel Dancho (left), Member of Parliament for Kildonan-St.Paul, and Nikki Spigelman, President, Gwen Secter Centre

Remarks were also delivered by Raquel Dancho, Member of Parliament for Kildonan-St. Paul, who was the only representative of any level of government in attendance. (How times have changed: I remember well the steadfast support the former Member of the Legislature for St. John’s, Gord Mackintosh, showed the Gwen Secter Centre when it was perilously close to being closed down. And, of course, for years, the area in which the Gwen Secter Centre is situated was represented by the late Saul Cherniack.)
Sophie Shinewald’s granddaughter, Alix (who flew in from Chicago), represented the Shinewald family at the event. (Her brother, Benjamin, who lives in Ottawa, wasn’t able to attend, but he sent a pre-recorded audio message that was played for the audience.)
Musical entertainment for the evening was provided by a group of talented singers, led by Julia Kroft. Following the concert, attendees headed inside to partake of a sumptuous assortment of pastries, all prepared by the Gwen Secter culinary staff. (And, despite my asking whether I could take a doggy bag home, I was turned down.)

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Palestinian gunmen kill 4 Israelis in West Bank gas station



This is a developing story.

(JTA) — Palestinian gunmen killed four people and wounded four in a terror attack at a gas station near the West Bank settlement of Eli, the Israeli army reported.

An Israeli civilian returning fire at the scene of the attack on Tuesday killed one of the attackers, who emerged from a vehicle, and two others fled.

Kan, Israel’s public broadcaster, said one of those wounded was in serious condition. The gunmen, while in the vehicle, shot at a guard post at the entry to the settlement, and then continued to the gas station which is also the site of a snack bar. A nearby yeshiva went into lockdown.

Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant announced plans to convene a briefing with top security officials within hours of the attack. Kan reported that there were celebrations of the killing in major West Bank cities and in the Gaza Strip, initiated by terrorist groups Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Hamas said the shooting attack Tuesday was triggered by the Jenin raid.

The shooting comes as tensions intensify in the West Bank. A day earlier, Israeli troops raiding the city of Jenin to arrest accused terrorists killed five people.

The Biden administration spoke out over the weekend against Israel’s plans to build 4,000 new housing units for Jewish settlers in the West Bank. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also finalized plans to  transfer West Bank building decisions to Bezalel Smotrich, the extremist who is the finance minister. Smotrich has said he wants to limit Palestinian building and expand settlement building.

Kan reported that the dead terrorist was a resident of a village, Urif, close to Huwara, the Palestinian town where terrorists killed two Israeli brothers driving through in February. Settlers retaliated by raiding the village and burning cars and buildings.

The post Palestinian gunmen kill 4 Israelis in West Bank gas station appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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