One sure sign the Conejo Valley Jewish community is growing comes every year about this time. That's not when demographers turn in their latest report, but when the community holds its annual Chanukah festival. Organizers say nothing better reflects the burgeoning Jewish population in this area.
"There has been a massive exodus westward from the traditional Jewish corridor along the 101," says organizer Saria Kraft. "There are five synagogues in the Thousand Oaks-Westlake-Agoura triangle alone." Indeed, this year marks the beginning of a new era for the Conejo Valley Hanukkah Festival. Organizers have decided to take the festival to the next level by mounting "The Magical Miracle of Hanukkah," a magic show staring Richard Burr and Josette. The production will be held in the Fred Kavli Theater at the Thousand Oaks Civic Plaza and will be accompanied by a candle-lighting ceremony and a performance by the Conejo Valley Community Children's Choir, led by Cantor Kenny Ellis.
Kraft said the event's new location is also indicative of a stronger Jewish presence. "When a population holds a holiday event that is religious in nature at the most prestigious venue for arts, culture and entertainment in the county," she said, "it makes a profound statement about their active presence in the community."
The festival started five years ago with a grant from The Jewish Federation/Valley Alliance as mostly a craft fair and vendor boutique. Each year the festival has drawn a huge crowd of Chanukah-hungry families searching for something more than the single shelf of merchandise at the local grocery store. This year, festival organizers are expecting to attract an estimated 5,000 attendees to the Dec. 10 event. "From the beginning there were 5,000 people. From the beginning there was a need for the festival," says organizer Bev Futterman. "We have a big community out here, and especially with all the Christmas around, it's nice to have a big Chanukah event."
Much of what has made this Chanukah event popular in years past will still be available for free at the Civic Center. Many children's entertainers, programs and activities will be on hand, including Zany Brainy and Zimmer Jewish Discovery Place. There will also be more than 45 vendors selling gifts, food, jewelry and art.
"It's fantastic," says Ellen Smith, a parent of two Heschel West day school students. "We've gone to the Hanukkah Festival every year that we've lived in Thousand Oaks. And this year not only is it a wonderful gathering, but there will also be family entertainment. Plus my kids will see their friends there."
The Conejo Valley Hanukkah Festival will be held Sun., Dec. 10, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza, 2100 Thousand Oaks Blvd. The festival is free, but there is a $6 admission charge for the magic show, "The Magical Miracle of Hanukkah." For more information, call (818) 991-7111.