Hanukkah begins Dec. 11 with variety of festivitiesWritten by Caitlin McGlade | | firstname.lastname@example.org
The celebration could be as subtle as a lit candle in a window or as festive as a 10-foot Lego menorah at Westfield Franklin Shopping Mall, but as night falls Dec. 11, many different sects of Toledo’s Jewish community will begin observing Hanukkah.
The eight-day holiday serves as a source of rededication to one’s spirituality and faith, said Rabbi Edward Garsek of Congregation Etz Chayim.
In ancient times, the Hellenist Syrians outlawed Judaism and destroyed holy Jewish temples, attempting to force Jewish observers to worship Greek gods.
But after much fighting for religious freedom, Judah the Maccabee and his followers could begin to publicly worship and needed to rededicate a ravaged holy temple in Jerusalem. When they found only enough pure oil to light one candle on the menorah, which has eight candles to light each day, the oil miraculously lasted eight days — long enough to procure more pure oil to keep the menorah lit.
Now, families light a candle each night for eight days, give a present each day, play traditional games and eat food fried in oil to symbolize the miracle of the oil. But, gift giving is a recent phenomenon adopted because of modernizing commercialistic pressures, Garsek said.
“I think it is very important to understand what the essence of Hanukkah is,” Garsek said. “It’s not about giving presents. It’s about celebrating a religious freedom that at the time was being denied to the Jewish people.”
Originally, no one gave gifts on Hanukkah, but the holiday evolved to giving to charity, which then evolved into giving children money with a strong emphasis on giving to charity.
These days, children regularly receive gifts every day of Hanukkah, except for the last — a new tradition that spawned after the gift-giving traditions of mainstream Christmas influenced the holiday, said Rabbi Moshe Saks, of Congregation B’nai Israel.
For his congregation, Hanukkah is a quiet holiday, observed in the home. His temple opens a Hanukkah gift shop during the season, but doesn’t conduct any special events in the synagogue or in the community. Saks said the holiday ranks “near the bottom” of important holidays, beneath Yom Kippur, the Jewish New Year, the Feast of the Tabernacle, Passover and others.
“All of those holidays were all from the Torah,” Saks said. “Hanukkah happened after the Torah; this by religious law makes it less important than holidays ordained by God.”
But for Hasidic Jewish observers aligned with the Chabad House, Hanukkah is about going as public as possible with Judaism and sharing resources with the needy.
Rabbi Yossi Shemtov of the Chabad House will post a menorah on his car.
“For all Judaism, it’s all internal. The only holiday where the mandate is to publicize the religion is Hanukkah,” Shemtov said.
He will also install 9-foot menorahs in front of the Chabad House, and Westfield Franklin Shopping Mall and will help children construct a 10-foot menorah out of Legos inside the mall at 3:45 p.m. on Dec. 13. Guests will snack on refreshments, including potato pancakes and other treats, such as edible dreidels, he said.
Observers light their menorah candles in the windows so passers-by wonder about the meaning, he said.
“The answer to the looker is the prayer, the liturgy,” Shemtov said. “The message of Hanukkah is that the weak prevailed over the mighty, the few over the many, the pure over the impure … Hanukkah is really what America stands for — for freedom not from religion but of religion. It doesn’t matter how few of you there are.”
His tradition encourages an increased focus on giving to charity during the Hanukkah season as well. This year, he and his fellow worshippers founded the Friendship Circle for special needs children. He also drives to every senior center to visit all Jewish elderly in need.
Even with the forces of commercialism seeping into Hanukkah, Shemtov said spiritual and material objects could intertwine to create a balance often resulting in charity giving or caring for the poor.
“It’s a struggle of each human being’s lifetime,” he said. “We’re supposed to be commercial; we’re supposed to be spiritual. Our mission in life is to turn material into spiritual and to make money to build a beautiful family, to make money to build a soup kitchen.”
Hanukkah lasts through Dec. 18, but Garsek’s students said they enjoy the entire holiday season of December.
“Once when I was questioning my students, I asked them if they feel like a minority and they answered that they like the entire season because everyone is so nice to everyone else,” he said.