BJE hopes to spark interest in havdallah

Families, listen up. You're in for a special treat the third motzei Shabbat in February.

To mark the conclusion of the S.F.-based Bureau of Jewish Education's weeklong "Feast of Jewish Learning," families are invited to join their neighbors Saturday, Feb. 17 in a community havdallah service in the band shell in Golden Gate Park.

Giant braided havdallah candles shipped from Israel, star-shaped cookies for children and Jewish folk music will highlight the event.

The idea is the brainchild of BJE associate director Kerin Lieberman. Last year, the theme of the Bureau's "feast" was Shabbat dinner. Families were encouraged to enjoy Friday night meals together at home on the first night of the weeklong event, and then meet for a community dinner the last Friday night of the learning festival.

This year, Lieberman and a handful of board members and volunteers decided to feature havdallah, the ceremony at the end of Shabbat that separates the holy day from the rest of the week.

Elaine Levy, a festival steering committee member from Mill Valley, said the festival may alternate celebrations of Shabbat and havdallah every other year, to raise interest in both.

"Havdallah is sort of an underrated holiday. No one I know celebrates it despite how special it is," Levy said.

"Havdallah is especially a nice event for children. It's something that appeals to the senses — they see the light of the flame; they touch the braid of the candle; they smell the besamim in the spice box."

Children are in for an extra special treat at the Golden Gate Park event. After a short ceremony, which begins at 6:30 p.m., they can head over to the Academy of Science's Morrison Planetarium for a free stargazing show and witness the wonder of an indoor universe.

In order to help families enjoy the weekly celebration of havdallah, the BJE is handing out free havdallah kits, which include a how-to booklet, a cassette of music, a candle and spice boxes made by the Jewish Community Center of San Francisco's after-school children.

Gail Foorman, one of the song leaders who will accompany Ira Levy and Jonathan Ferris at the service, said she hopes the celebration will rekindle people's spirits.

"Havdallah is such a nice ritual, but unfortunately since most people don't seem to celebrate Shabbat, marking the end of it seems to get lost," she said.

"If only people realized how special havdallah is and what it means: that you should take some of the sweet light from the candle and carry it over into the rest of the week."

The community havdallah ceremony, which is free, is underwritten by a grant from the Milton and Sophie Meyer Fund and sponsored in part by the Jewish Bulletin.