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"Hanukkah cookies, anyone?"

"The seasonal greeting these days is as likely to be Happy Holidays as Merry Christmas.Islanders' increased awareness of non-Christian neighbors may be one reason for the inclusive salutation. It makes a major difference, says one member of the Jewish community who asked not to be identified. No one wants to be the Grinch who stole Christmas; it's just nice to feel acknowledged. A number of faith groups celebrate at this time of year. Buddhists remember Buddha's birthday in early December, African-Americans may celebrate Kwanza and those with an interest in Celtic, wiccan or new age practices observe the winter solstice. But the Jewish community particularly welcomes the shift to ecumenism, members say, since Hanukkah and Christmas are so close that the glow from the menorah candles can be hard to see in the brilliance of all the Christmas lights. The complex history of Jewish-Christian relations may also make thoughtful gestures like an inclusive greeting especially welcome. Robin Rypinski, a member of Bainbridge's Congregation Shir Hayam, describes what happened when her son Evan was approached by classmates drawing seasonal posters. The kids asked Evan to show them how to draw the Star of David, menorah and dreidel, so the Jewish holiday could also be recognized, Rypinski said. It made a wonderful impression on him that they were asking - and that they wanted to make the statement.Rabbi Scott Sperling credits the local Interfaith Council for increased island ecumenism. Sperling also cites the Bainbridge school district's growing emphasis on diversity. He also believes that younger teachers are less invested in school day Christmas celebrations than were their seniors. Island businesses have also contributed significantly to interfaith awareness by offering Jewish ceremonial items and traditional foods. Things have changed since Dana's Showhouse was the only island business to proffer a few Hanukkah cards and candles.The merchants have been absolutely wonderful, Sperling said. Everyone has gone out of their way, has made such an effort.Sperling recalls his astonishment at being consulted by a new wine buyer for Safeway, who wished to be certain that labels he was considering were the right ones for Passover. Jewish community member Janet Pauli credits Gary Reese, night manager at Town and Country Thriftway, with making sure the grocery store carried a variety of Jewish foodstuffs, prominently displayed. Pauli herself lobbied Bainbridge Bakers a decade ago to make Jewish baked goods. The bakery, under original owner Hollis Fay, became a pioneer in providing Jewish foods, a tradition maintained under current owner Katherine Gillis. Gillis relates a recent bakery anecdote:I was working the floor and a man came in with his son. He was carrying an item - I think it was a pitcher painted with dreidels - that clued me in that they might be Jewish. They got to the display case, and when the man saw the rugelach, his whole face lit up.We do everything with respect for tradition, Gillis said. We hand roll the rugelach, we look up spelling to make sure we've got names right. We make Star of David cookies, dreidels and macaroons. For Hanukkah, we even make challah in the shape of a menorah. The only downside is that my 5-year-old feels cheated because we don't celebrate Hanukkah. So now we light candles, she said. This time of year, we bake until 3:30 a.m., or even all night, but it's worth it.Other Island businesses, such as Zamboanga, Skookum and Calico Cat, now carry a variety of fun, tasty and ceremonial objects. It makes a phenomenal difference to see these things on the shelf, said Barbara DeNormandie, a member of Bainbridge's Congregation Kol Shalom. You wouldn't think that it would make such a difference - but it does. It says, 'We are here'. And it says to our children: It's OK to be Jewish. "

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