Chanukah lights to burn brightly through U.S. mail

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LOS ANGELES — Last fall, the 360 students at the Kadima Hebrew Academy launched a letter-writing campaign to persuade the U.S. Postal Service to issue a first-ever Chanukah stamp to complement the familiar Christmas postal themes.

Late last month, the young lobbyists' petition got its stamp of approval, directly from Postmaster General Marvin Runyon in Washington, D.C.

"I think your idea is a good one," wrote Runyon in a letter read to a cheering audience of Kadima kindergartners. "I am happy to tell you that the Postal Service will be issuing a Chanukah stamp this year."

The stamp, issued jointly by the postal services of the United States and Israel, will appear in October as part of the part of the U.S. Postal Service's new Holiday Celebration series.

Designed by Hannah Smotrich, a graphic design instructor at the Corcoran School of Art in Washington, D.C., it shows a somewhat abstract image of a chanukiah with nine multicolored candles resting on a horizontal base.

Altogether, the Kadima students upped the income of the U.S. Postal Service by mailing hundreds of letters in support of the stamp, with some sending as many as four each.

Most pupils also included proposed designs for the stamp, heavy on chanukiot, candles and dreidels, said George Lebovitz, headmaster of the Conservative day school in Woodland Hills, a Los Angeles suburb.

Lebovitz said the project, besides being a lot of fun, served three pedagogical purposes.

"It gave the kids practice in writing, it was a lesson in applied democracy and it focused on a Jewish theme," he said. "It also built a lot of pride in our youngsters."

The Postal Service gets 30,000 to 40,000 requests a year proposing new stamps. Over the years, there have been numerous suggestions for Chanukah stamps, said Terri Bouffiou, Los Angeles spokeswoman for the Postal Service.

However, the Kadima campaign struck a special chord in Runyon's heart and he personally pushed the approval of the Chanukah stamp. In the past, Jews had complained that they had no stamp to mark their holiday.

"This stamp will tell about all of the people from all over the world who came here to enjoy the freedom and opportunity that they could only dream about in some lands," Runyon wrote the students.

"Chanukah has an inspiring message that reaches across cultural boundaries and touches a place deep in our hearts."

The project was originally proposed by the parents of a Kadima student, and the letters were initially dispatched to California's two Jewish U.S. senators, Barbara Boxer (D-Greenbrae) and Dianne Feinstein (D-S.F.). They, in turn, forwarded the mailbags to Runyon, along with design proposals.

The actual design of the 32-cent stamp was ceremoniously unveiled Tuesday of last week at two locations: the B'nai B'rith Klutznick Museum in Washington, D.C., and the Kadima Hebrew Academy.

Tom Tugend

JTA Los Angeles correspondent