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Menorah lighting signals joyful holiday

By Edwin Folven, 12/06/2012

Hanukkah begins at sundown on Dec. 8

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The first of eight candles will be lit at sundown on Dec. 8, signaling the beginning of Hanukkah. A new light on the menorah will be illuminated each day, symbolizing a period during 164 B.C. when the Jews reclaimed the temple in Jerusalem and relit the oil lamps inside. The story goes on to say there was only enough oil to illuminate the temple for one day, yet the oil burned for eight days, a testament to the power of God. Jonathan Freund, the director of education and interreligious programs for the Board of Rabbis of Southern California, said while many people continue to use oil to light the menorah, also known as the “Hanukkiah”, it doesn’t matter whether oil, a candle or electric light is used to light the menorah.

Many people place menorahs in their front yards to publicize the miracle of Hanukkah. (photo by Aaron Blevins)

“The only commandment is that you light the lights and that you publicize the miracle, which is why you see them in windows or outside people’s homes,” Freund said. “Some people put them on their cars and drive around. It has become a big holiday for celebrations because of its proximity to Christmas.”

Even if you’re not using oil to light your menorah, oil is a big part of the celebration, Freund said. Many traditional Hanukkah foods are cooked in oil, like latkes (potato pancakes) and doughnuts.

Another important Hanukkah tradition is playing games with a dreidel, or four-sided top with different letters representing the words in the phrase, a “great miracle happened there”. Depending on how the top lands, the person spinning generally receives or gives a gift, usually chocolate coins, called gelt.

Many members of the local Jewish community will celebrate in different ways, such as Rabbi Chaim Kolodny, a Hancock Park resident for more than two decades. Kolodny said Hanukkah is a time of giving thanks for blessings received throughout the year. Another hallmark of the holiday is exchanging gifts.

“The kids love it because they get eight days of presents,” Kolodny said. “It is definitely a very, very special time. Everybody is expected to be kind. Whether you wear a black yarmulke, a purple yarmulke or no yarmulke at all, I don’t think it makes much of a difference. The idea is to have a good time and to share with others.”

Rabbi Mark Diamond, regional director of the American Jewish Committee, agreed Hanukkah is a very special time of the year for Jews around the world. In Israel, elaborately decorated windows or stone alcoves are built into the exterior walls of homes so the menorahs can be publicly displayed, he said. Locally, many people place large menorahs in their yards to share in the holiday with their neighbors.

“Publicizing the miracle is indeed one of the key features of the holiday,” Diamond said. “In my own family, we place the menorah in a public space where we can share the joy and the meaning of the miracle. It starts with great pride in the miracle of Hanukkah.”

Rabbi Steve Leder, of the Wilshire Boulevard Temple, said one of his favorite parts of the holiday is music, and the temple will be hosting a special musical celebration on Dec. 14 at 6 p.m. at 3663 Wilshire Blvd.

“[Music] is very important for us,” he said. “First, we will stuff them full of doughnuts, and then we have a sing-a-long. It’s a whole audience participation thing. It’s a great time.”

Freund added that although some people celebrate Hanukkah differently, the tradition behind the holiday is the same. He encouraged anyone looking for ways to celebrate Hanukkah or wishing to learn more to visit www.myjewish-learning.com.

“It’s just different ways of doing the same thing,” he said. “The main idea is to ‘kindle the light’, and have a lot of fun.”

 

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