Rockin’ Ruach Community Celebration Promises Lively Hanukkah Entertainment
The Jewish Community Center and PJ Library of Columbus are partnering this holiday season to bring young Jewish families a Hanukkah celebration that both children and adults will enjoy. Getting the party started in the JCC’s Schottenstein Room at 10:30 am on Sunday, December 14, will be Mama Doni, a singer/songwriter and performer who, with a background in musical theater education, got her start singing for preschoolers like those at the Columbus JCC, at her daughter’s JCC preschool in 2007.
The community Hanukkah celebration will feature not only the concert but also the annual Hanukkah Hop, beginning after the hour-long concert concludes. Co-sponsored by the Columbus Jewish Day School and Columbus Torah Academy, the full morning and afternoon of activities will include holiday arts and crafts, a kosher lunch, and more.
This will be the second time the Hanukkah Hop takes place at the JCC on College Avenue because, as JCC Early Childhood Director Nikki Henry emphasized, “as the central address of the Jewish community, it only made sense to have it here at the JCC. The big appeal of the concert is that you can come with your kids of all different ages and be together as a family to experience Hanukkah.” Henry noted that the “Rockin’ Ruach” Community Hanukkah Celebration and Concert was extended to end at 1:30 p.m. to ensure that Sunday School families could bring all their children.
The concert, Henry pointed out, would not be possible without the support of all three preschool sites’ Early Childhood Parent Committees and the Mim Chenfeld Fund. Families are asked to contribute a donation of $10 per family to the fund that supports performing arts programming for preschoolers. Chenfeld herself is excited to be helping bring a national act like Mama Doni to the Columbus audience. “Bring all the kids in the family, neighbors, and friends for a warm, bouncy, cheery Hanukkah program that will brighten up the winter cold,” Chenfeld enthused.
“Mama” Doni Zasloff Thomas’ infectiously joyful approach to Jewish music began when she, as a child herself, attended her first Jewish wedding. While dancing the hora surrounded by family and friends, she was overcome by an uplifting feeling of spiritual connection. “The music started to get louder and we started to really get into that crazy ruach that happens at Jewish weddings. In that moment my whole spirit felt so alive, so much love, so connected to everyone around me,” Mama Doni remembered.
It is that same feeling of joy and wonder at the profound effect music can have that Mama Doni seeks to provide audiences at her concerts. “I feel an obligation to try to recreate these experiences for kids and for adults. That’s my mission – to really communicate the fun message of Jewish culture in a way that connects with both kids and parents,” she said. To that end, Mama Doni and her band have released four CDs, several music videos, and even books, covering a smorgasbord of genres giving children a wider taste of music.
At a typical concert, she dances around her audience, mingling with the crowd, giving hugs and “running around being crazy and singing,” said Mama Doni, who will bring her spirited love of music to the JCC’s “Rockin’ Ruach” Community Hanukkah Celebration and Concert, too. There, she’ll sing songs like “La Vida Dreidel,” a goofy tune about the life of a dreidel. “It’s about a dreidel just sitting in a drawer doing absolutely nothing all year and then all of a sudden it has to spin for eight days and then it’s exhausted and needs the rest of the year to unwind,” said Mama Doni.
The award-winning performer will bring her high-energy, soulful blend of musical styles, including rock, bluegrass, disco and even reggae, to create an interactive family concert designed to make Jewish culture exciting for everyone from preschoolers to parents. “She can play to all ages,” explained Alyssa Russell, Family Engagement Coordinator for the Jewish Federation of Columbus, who implements the local programming of PJ Library, a nationwide Jewish outreach tool specializing in delivering free books and music to Jewish children ages 6 months to 8 years old. “Like PJ Library, she’s music but she’s so much more. She’s really bringing great energy to Columbus.”
The concert is a natural extension of the partnership between PJ Library and the JCC, Russell added. “It’s great we can join forces like this,” she said of the collaboration which has grown substantially since PJ Library’s early days. “Thanks to the generous support of Abigail and Leslie Wexner and the Jewish Federation of Columbus, PJ Library can be found all over Columbus—in programs and events—and especially at the JCC, where we’ve developed a strong relationship, providing an accessible, low-barrier entry to Jewish programming for kids.”
Today, PJ Library can be found in much of the programming offered at the JCC, explained Nikki Henry. “We’ve been partnering with PJ Library on a variety of preschool events, from Sunday Fundays to PJ Goes to School. We’re the only preschool in central Ohio to offer PJ Goes to School, which features twice-yearly workshops for our three- and four-year-old classrooms. PJ Library educators come instruct our preschool teachers in how to implement the Jewish values and lessons from these books in our classrooms, with art activities, songs, even sending books home with families. This is what sets the JCC preschool apart from other preschools, the way we bring Judaism to life in the classroom to make it fun and accessible for families.”
Another goal of the holiday event, Henry and Russell pointed out, is to foster a greater sense of community among Jewish families from all over Columbus. “We really wanted to create an event that would bring all three of our preschool sites together during the Festival of Lights. We hope hosting the Hanukkah Hop and holiday concert here at the JCC enables families to meet other families and to make connections with them,” Henry added.
To learn more about the December 14 “Rockin’ Ruach” Community Hanukkah Celebration and Concert or any of the many programs offered by the JCC and its three preschool sites in east Columbus, northwest Columbus, and New Albany, contact Nikki Henry at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 614-559-6290.