She takes the Shamash to light the candles. First with a little trepidation, then with a sense of awe and wonder as she thinks about the story she just heard. Finally, comes the sense of pride as she understands the honor she has been given.
Naomi Eason, 11, is the lighting one of the Menorahs at the Bethlehem A.D. synagogue.
Bethlehem A.D. opens the door to the past each December 21 through December 23, offering the San Francisco Bay Area the opportunity to get a glimpse of what life was like on the night that the Messiah was born. There are a lot of volunteers in Bethlehem A.D. The largest living nativity in California boasts a cast and crew of 500 volunteers that increase each year.
There are about 30 angels dancing on the roof top and at the manger. Centurions marching through the village and city streets, the beloved rabbis, Herod and his dancers, tax collectors, and Wise Men along marketplace workers and shepherds.
The smallest volunteers are the cast of the Twelve Tribes of Israel. Any child 6 through 11 is welcome to participate.
The Bethlehem Tribes is often the first time that a child has the opportunity to participate in a community activity.
Known simply as The Tribes, the program consists of seven groups of eight children dressed in full authentic costumes.
Each tribe is taken to one of the seven stations for a half hour. They learn about Roman soldiers at the Centurion barracks where they also get a bowl of homemade soup. Bread making is on the agenda in the marketplace and at the metalsmith, they make their own copper keepsake medallion.
The will also warm themselves at the fires while enjoying chicken and playing dreydel. Donuts and hot apple cider are enjoyed with all the Bethlehem visitors in the Fellowship Hall. They also are schooled at the village synagogue, where they are taught by the rabbis.
“We stress that they learn the meaning of the 10 Commandments along with a few Hebrew words,” said Paula Paulin Dresden, Bethlehem A.D. Creative Director.
Naomi enjoys watching Bethlehem all come together, especially when she is at the manger.
By far her favorite part of Tribe participation is learning from the Rabbi at the synagogue. “He’s really cool and we get to learn about Jerusalem a long time ago and about the menorah, lighting it and how it started.”
Dresden was inspired to create the Tribes program in A.D. 2000 because they were many children who wanted to participate along with their parents or older siblings.
“I couldn’t have them wandering around. It occurred to me that we could have the children rotate to various stations,” she said. With a background in childhood education, Dresden wanted to have “a program that is a lot of fun while at the same time, teach children about the history of Rome, Israel and the Hebrew people.”
Now in her third year, Naomi says that “when you’re in the Tribe you get to do a lot of stuff and you get to do something interesting and it’s a lot of fun.”
So popular is the program that Dresden found herself creating an Assistant role in 2014 for those children who reach the ripe old age of 12 but want to remain with the Tribes.
The Tribes are led by adults who are required to have background checks.
Bethlehem A.D. free to all visitors and is held 6 p.m. to 9:30 p.m., December 21 through 23 at 1305 Middlefield Road in Redwood City.
For more information about Bethlehem A.D. and registering for the Tribes, call 650.368.3821 extension 1302, email Paula@bethlehemad.com or visit bethlehemad.com.