Jews Prepare To Celebrate Eight-day 'Festival Of Lights'

December 05, 1990|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,Staff writer

A "great miracle" happened thousands of years ago in Jerusalem's Holy Temple, when Judah Maccabee lit the Menorah there.

Greek soldiers had ransacked the temple, leaving barely enough oil to light the Menorah, a traditional symbol of Judaism, for one day.

Miraculously, though, that small supply lasted for eight days until new oil was made.

Since then, Jews have celebrated the miracle with Hanukkah, the feast of dedication. The holiday corresponds with the 25th day of Kislev in the Jewish calendar and usually occurs in December.

In most homes today, the oil lamp has been replaced by a candelabra of eight candles and a shamas. The celebrant first lights the shamas, or lead candle, using it to light the others.

This year's celebration begins at sundown Tuesday, as Jews light the first candle of Hanukkah Menorah. The Festival of Lights continues for eight days, with another candle lit each night, as a reminder of the time the ancient lamp burned so wondrously.

Beth Shalom, the only synagogue in the county, will celebrate Hanukkah at its regular 8 p.m. service Dec. 14, the fourth day of the feast. The children of the conservative congregation will say prayers and sing festive songs.

After the service, members will gather for an Oneg Shabbat, a party featuring latkes, potato pancakes cooked in oil.

"Hanukkah means dedication," said Al Stein, cantor and spiritual leader of the Taylorsville synagogue. "It is the Feast of Lights. We also try to gear it toward letting the children have a happy occasion."

Jamie Wehler, president of B'nai Israel, an inactive Reform congregation formerly based in Westminster, said its members celebrate at home.

During the feast, children play a "sort of lottery game" with a dreidel, a small top, she said. The toy's four sides each have a Hebrew letter, which stand for "A great miracle happened there."

"We retell the story of the battle, the destruction and the miracle over each year and light the candles," she said. "We celebrate the solemnity and religious significance of the holiday."

In Wehler's Uniontown home, everyone lights his own Menorah. She has been collecting them for years and has more than enough for guests.

"Sometimes, a parent's hand will guide the child as he lights the candle," she said. "It's beautiful, especially on the eighth night."

Wehler said when her son, Geoff, 17, was younger, she used to take the Menorah to his classes at William Winchester Elementary and explain the holiday to his classmates. She would pass out latkes, too.

The family also celebrates by exchanging gifts. One popular gift, she said, is gelt, Hanukkah money.

"The children often receive 18 shiny new coins as a wish for a good life."

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