Monday, December 22,
Front page of the OC Register

Chocolate menorah truly takes the cake
Comedian is upstaged at holiday event full of sweetness and light.

HIGHLIGHT: Comedian Joey Bishop lights a 8-foot chocolate menorah Sunday at Fashion Island.


The Orange County Register

Joey Bishop had to go on after the chocolate. That's a tough act to follow, even for the Rat Pack comedian who has worked everywhere from the Catskills to Vegas.

But Bishop had it all planned out: He'd take the stage at Fashion Island - where he was scheduled to kindle a 200-pound chocolate menorah, he'd grab the mic and he'd say, "This is going to be the first time in the history of Hanukkah that a rabbi presents a Bishop."

But on Sunday when Rabbi Reuven Mintz of the Chabad Jewish Center introduced Bishop before 1,000 Hanukkah revelers, the rabbi used Bishop's line.

Lucky for Bishop the act that he followed - the assembly of what was billed as the "world's largest chocolate menorah" - involved passing out 35 pounds of chocolate shavings to a swarm of children who didn't know who the guy in the front row was and didn't care so long as he got out of the way of the chocolate.

The mob scene gave Bishop a new opening line: "This is the first time in my life I have sat down to watch an affair and had the pleasure of having 47 kids step on me," he said.

And he killed.

In a strange way, Bishop's graceful improvisation is a good measure of the meaning of Hanukkah: triumph in the face of adversity.

Of course, the Maccabees of ancient times didn't face adversity as formidable as 50 children on a sugar high, but they were impressive.

Jewish tradition says of the Maccabees that the soldiers who reclaimed the ancient Temple in Jerusalem from enemies lit the menorah with only enough oil for one night. Miraculously, the oil lasted for eight nights, and that is why menorahs are lit for eight nights during Hanukkah.

But few of those menorahs are made of Barry Calebut semi-sweet chocolate. Fewer still are crafted by Douglas Weinstein and Michael Murphy, chefs from Newport Beach who create edible art for celebrity weddings and parties.

And none likely draw the awe and delight that the chocolate menorah brought to kids in Bloomingdale's courtyard. This is no small feat, considering Fashion Island's 115-foot Christmas tree loomed next to the 8-foot menorah.

Wyatt Gorman, who is 2 1/2, is old enough to notice Christmas but not old enough to understand why his family (and an estimated 100,000 other families in Orange County) isn't visited by Santa. So his mom, Kathy Gorman of Rossmoor, said she hoped Hanukkah events like the menorah lighting would help instill a love of the holiday in Wyatt.

"Where I grew up in Houston, Texas, we had a big Jewish community, so I never felt like I was the outcast," Gorman said. "Whereas now we live in Orange County. So we do as many things as possible to instill that value in him." Whether Wyatt grasped the meaning of Hanukkah or not is unclear. The boy, however, did seem to appreciate the idea of a menorah that he could eat.

In order to construct this marvel of sweet engineering, Weinstein and Murphy worked for more than a week, pouring melted chocolate into plastic molds. The hollow neck was formed by pouring chocolate into a 6-inch plastic tube, with a 1-inch plastic tube in the center to create the doughnut-hole shape. This allowed the completed menorah neck to rest on a steel beam for support. But the rest of the menorah is solid, unadulterated and, of course, kosher chocolate, melded at the seams with more chocolate.

Instead of candles, three oil lamps were "glued" onto the menorah with melted chocolate to signify that Sunday was the third night of Hanukkah. While all the lights of the menorah in the ancient Temple were lit each night, the number of Hanukkah candles lit now correspond to the number of nights of the holiday that have passed, said Mintz of the Chabad Jewish Center of Newport Beach.

"Light represents goodness and kindness, and we want to add light in increasing measure," Mintz said. "What is sufficient today will not be sufficient tomorrow."

To highlight the point of giving, the menorah will travel to Orangewood Children's Home today for a holiday celebration, where more of the menorah will be shaved off and given to kids.

Weinstein and Murphy donated their time, another philanthropist donated the chocolate and Bishop also appeared for free. Bishop explained that his relationship with Chabad goes back several years, when he decided to will all his money to the organization to go to handicapped children.

"Dig deep within yourselves to find what you have to offer," Mintz told the crowd, "that you can give to someone in need."

When the "candles" were in place and prayers were said, Bishop took a tiki torch representing the "shamash," or center candle, and lit the other oil lamps. He told a few jokes, shared his real name (Joseph Abraham Gottlieb) and wished the audience a happy Hanukkah.

"This is beautiful," he said. "This is what religion should be about - people loving each other."

And chocolate.