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A Celebration of Light and Children’s Voices

TIMES STAFF WRITER

“Many of the holidays in the Jewish religion are rather sad,” says Gordon R.A. Fishman, a retired Newport Beach eye surgeon. “This happens to be one of the happy ones.”

This happy one is Hanukkah, the eight-day Jewish Festival of Lights, which begins Friday at sundown.

To celebrate, Fishman and his wife, Hannareta, are sponsoring their fifth annual Orange County Chanukah Concert Sunday at the Orange County Performing Arts Center in Costa Mesa.

“Often during the holiday season there is so much for the secular community,” Fishman said. “There is hardly anything for Jewish kids to celebrate.

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“We thought this would also be a wonderful opportunity for children in the north part of Orange County and children in the south part to meet and get together. A lot of Hanukkah music is sung by children, and it’s a happy time.”

Hanukkah commemorates the rededication of the Second Temple in Jerusalem in 165 BC by Judas Maccabaeus and his followers.

After defeating the Syrians, who held the temple, the Jewish forces found they had only enough consecrated oil to provide one day of light.

But the flame they lit burned for eight days--and that miraculous event is still commemorated when families celebrating the holiday light a candle on each of eight succeeding days.

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While past Hanukkah concerts have showcased such celebrities as Milton Berle, Sid Caesar and Ed Asner, this year there will be no headliners.

Instead, the 600 children (16 children’s choirs from different synagogues in Orange County) and 12 cantors will sing in honor of composer Ami Aloni.

Aloni, an internationally known composer of Jewish liturgical music and a former resident composer at Valley Beth Shalom in Los Angeles, had directed the choirs and cantors in the previous Hanukkah concerts. He died last summer.

“Because he did so much for the concerts, we’ve decided to dedicate this entire concert to him alone, using his music.

“Each of the cantors are individuals, and they do their own interpretations. Having this many cantors in one place is a feat. I had to assure each one that he and she would have a solo.

“Yes, there are women cantors. I would say there are almost as many women cantors as men.”

*

In addition, pianist Jeremy Sisking, 13, of Irvine and singer Katie Feld, 14, of Monarch Beach, will be featured.

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Fishman said each year one or two children are selected to perform solos to demonstrate to their peers that “this is something they can aspire to.”

The concert is also a fund-raiser for participating organizations and synagogues.

“Of all the money spent on tickets, 50% is returned to the synagogues and the day schools that buy the tickets,” said Fishman, who moved from suburban Detroit to Newport Beach with his wife in 1992.

“We’ve returned about $40,000 in the past; the concert is always a sellout,” he added.

“Our first concert was at the Irvine Barclay Theatre. It was overwhelmingly oversold, so we had very many angry parents and grandparents who couldn’t get in.

“So I went to the trustees of the Performing Arts Center and told them what was happening. And they made space for us. So we’ve had the last four at the center.”

* Fifth Annual Orange County Chanukah Concert, 2 p.m. Sunday at the Orange County Performing Arts Center, 600 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa. $18-$36. (714) 556-2887.

Chris Pasles can be reached at (714) 966-5602 or by e-mail at chris.pasles@latimes.com.

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