Their blue dreidels, bright with glittering Hebrew letters, were taped all around the classroom door.
Their handmade chocolate coins, or gelt, were hardening in the refrigerator.
And a child's handmade sign reading
- with one "n" crossed out - hung from a string.
It's official: The holiday season begins tonight with Hanukkah.
And so, with one day left, the kindergartners at the Katz Jewish Community Center in Cherry Hill started work yesterday afternoon on their menorahs, the candelabras that are used to celebrate the eight-day Festival of Lights.
"We're doing green menorahs," said teacher Anita Hoffman, who handed out blue wrapping paper to 18 young charges gathered around low, round tables.
By "green," Hoffman meant eco-friendly. The wrapping paper, ribbon, and cardboard lunch boxes that would serve as the menorah bases were all recycled.
The precut paper fit quickly and easily around the boxes, and within minutes the children were busy rolling gobs of Play-Doh into small balls, then poking them with their fingers and pressing them onto the boxes.
These would be the candle holders, ideally arrayed in a neat row of eight, with a taller gob for the
, or "helper candle," used to light the others.
"I need the glue that works," said Michael Treglia, 5, after squeezing hard on two nearly empty bottles of Elmer's Glue.
"Here," said Stav Bennie Katz, also 5, handing him a fuller bottle. Treglia was soon squeezing white pools of goo onto his box and squashing the yellow Play-Doh onto each.
Hanukkah celebrates the successful effort of the Jewish tribe of Maccabees who, in 165 B.C., ousted Syrian occupiers of Jerusalem who had corrupted Judaism with Hellenic ways and profaned the temple.
Tradition says that when the Maccabees went to rededicate the temple, they discovered that they had enough lamp oil to burn for just one day, but that the lamp miraculously burned for eight.
The festival begins on the 25th day of the month of Kislev, which can fall between late November and late December.
Most of the youngsters finished their menorahs in less than a half-hour, but Hannah Weber was looking for something over the top.
No neat row of candle holders or wrapping paper for her. She began by gluing four gobs of Play-Doh randomly around the top of the bare cardboard and then got down to the serious business of ribbon placement.
No corner of the box was spared Hannah's avant-garde vision. Here was a diagonal stripe of blue ribbon, there a full length of red-and-gold filigree, a rectangle of silver, some gold wire, and the pièce de résistance: two lengths of shoelace from a sneaker, draped in squiggle on the left side.
"I like to decorate," Hannah explained.
By the time she was done, though, the box contained all eight candle holders and a large
, with four candles pointing in four directions. It was a decidedly postmodern menorah.
"Hanukkah is a special holiday where we celebrate the oil that was supposed to last one day and it lasted eight," she explained.
And when did did that happen?
"I don't know for sure," she said. "I think it was about 15 years ago."