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Lainie Kazan And William Shatner to Share Hanukkah Memories On PBS

Tony Award nominee Lainie Kazan and Emmy Award winner William Shatner, whose Broadway stage careers have spanned six decades, reveal personal stories of their Jewish upbringing in the new PBS special Hanukkah: A Festival of deLights. The program airs nationwide on PBS stations in the week leading up to and through the holiday (check local listings) and in the New York metropolitan area on PBS as follows: on WLIW/21 on Sunday, November 25 at 7:30 pm (check for additional airings) and on the first and last nights of Hanukkah on Thirteen -- Sunday, December 2 at 2:30 pm and Sunday, December 9 at 8 pm.

Kazan made her Broadway debut in 1961 with the musical The Happiest Girl in the World and had a career surge when she understudied Barbra Streisand for the lead role of Fanny Brice in Funny Girl (1964) and filled in for one day of the show's run. She was a 1993 Tony Award nominee for Best Featured Actress in a Musical for My Favorite Year among other notable performances. Shatner made his Broadway debut in 1956 in Tamburlaine the Great, followed by The World of Suzie Wong (1959) and A Shot in the Dark (1961), returning for his one man show Shatner's World: We Just Live in It in 2012.

Along with Kazan and Shatner, Hanukkah: A Festival of deLights features Jewish families from a variety of backgrounds including rabbis, scholars of Jewish history, authors, artists sharing their personal Hanukkah experience, along with archival film and images - each illuminating the holiday like the eight candles lit each night on the traditional menorah through the centuries. Throughout the program, a brother and sister, children on the cusp of their Jewish adulthood, learn on-screen how to make potato latkes (pancakes) from their bubbe (grandmother) and ask questions about the meaning of the holiday to their rabbi, reinforcing the role of Hanukkah as a powerful connection between generations past and future and exploring its complicated history.

The program looks at the ways in which this story has been told through the years, at times as a good versus evil battle between those REBEL Maccabee warriors and the Syrian ruler Antiochus, or a Civil War between Orthodox and assimilated Jews, or with the focus on a pure miracle of oil lasting eight days. From any perspective, it has the makings, as actor William Shatner notes in the program, of a Hollywood blockbuster for the ages, one he says with a laugh he would now be cast in as the 'wise rabbi' and not the dashing hero.

Hanukkah: A Festival of deLights traces the evolution of Hanukkah from its origin as a small holiday within Judaism with a tiny ritual that took place in the home rather than the synagogue, to one of major prominence in assimilated American life. Author Abigail Pogrebin (My Jewish Year), daughter of Ms. Magazine founding editor Letty Cottin Pogrebin, notes that Hanukkah is an "accessible" holiday compared with other Jewish rituals that may seem daunting, relating how her mother's Hanukkah parties were marked by a tap-dancing Gloria Steinem, lectures from other noted journalists, and her siblings' holiday parody songs along the lines of "Don't Cry for Me, Antiochus." However families celebrate, the sights, smells and tastes of Hanukkah are the universal sensory signposts that connect, as each participant shares personal but universal memories -- of a mother's kitchen, a menorah burnished from yearly use, the singular glow of eight candles and the shamash that lights them flickering in unison, that distinct combination of potatoes and oil, the joy of receiving chocolate gelt (coins), and more indelible moments central to what is a favorite holiday for many American Jews. As Lainie Kazan, preparing for her grandson's first holiday with family filled with holiday songs to "bring him into our world" asserts, "If I can keep the candles lit the rest of my life I'll be very happy."

As the program concludes, viewers understand that Hanukkah is more about presence than presents - it is not "Jewish Christmas" but closer to Thanksgiving, a people grateful for coming through the DARKNESS time and again. Whether one is pro-applesauce or sour cream for their latkes, what the holiday brings to everyone is a message of hope, reminding us, as Pogrebin notes, to "pay attention to where those little miracles are happening in your daily life."

About the Filmmaker

David Anton (aka David Antosofsky) comes from three generations of cantors and rabbis. He has worked as a cameraman, editor and producer for New York public television stations WNET and WLIW for three decades. His previous program for public television, Hugs and Knishes: A Celebration of Our Jewish Foods and Traditions, featured Fyvush Finkel, Tovah Feldshuh and former Mayor Ed Koch among others and aired nationally on public television stations.

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