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Rain can’t dim Festival of Lights

As each candle of the menorah is lit, the glow illuminating the faces of family and friends grows brighter.

The Jewish Hanukkah ritual of lighting candles has been duplicated every year for millenia.

Despite the weekend’s deluge, this glow was especially bright on Saturday, the seventh day of Hanukkah in the Jewish year 5,761. Twenty menorahs containing 180 candles lined one long table for Chavurat Shir Hayam’s celebration Saturday at Eagle Harbor Congregational Church.

“We want to share our love of Judaism with our children,” event co-coordinator Lisa Weiss said.

“That’s why we are here tonight; that’s why we come together throughout the year for services, holidays and Sunday school.”

The menorahs were variations on the Hanukkah candelabra that has eight candle holders for the holiday’s eight days, and a ninth candle – the “shamus” – to light the others.

The Shir Hayam families brought sterling sliver menorahs, brass menorahs, wood and ceramic. There were the flat menorahs and menorahs with the classic arch.

The largest was welded copper tubing about two and a half feet high and three feet wide.

A line of dancing children made of painted tin formed one menorah and a tree complete with silver leaves made another.

Zann Jacobrown and Harvard student Aaron Shakow stood in front of the brilliant display disputing the first mention of the holiday in Jewish writings.

“It’s in the Talmud,” Jacobrown said.

“No, it’s in the Torah,” Shakow said.

“It’s the Talmud,” Jacobrown insisted. “It says ‘Light it every night – first one, and then two the second night.’”

Shakow conceded the point, with a shrug of the shoulders.

Hanukkah has roots, Jacobrown said, in events that occurred in 220 BCE.

(BCE, Before the Common Era, is an alternative to BC, Before Christ, and is used by organizations and religions, including Judaism, that don’t measure time with reference to the birth of Jesus.)

After Alexander the Great conquered Judea, many, but not all, Jews became Hellenized under the rule of the Seleucids, Syrian rulers who supported Greek customs.

“The Zealots were not into being Hellenized,” Jacobrown said. “Antiochus IV Epiphanes, king of Syria and overlord of Palestine, made more and more restrictions on Jews practicing Judaism until, around 164 BCE, a revolt lead by Judah Maccabee recaptured Jerusalem and the temple that had been desecrated.”

The contemporary menorah commemorates the restored temple’s menorah that, according to tradition, burned for eight days when there was only oil enough for a single day.

Some believe that Hanukkah, the Festival of Lights celebrated on the twenty-fifth of Kislev, the third month in the Jewish calendar corresponding to early December, is a descendant of still older solstice prayers for the return of the sunlight.

Weiss and others note that the holiday has gained prominence by proximity to Christmas.

“It’s not really an important holiday,” Weiss said, “compared to other Jewish observances.”

Still, it’s tradition; Hanukkah customs, developed over time, include special games and food.

At Saturday’s gathering, several Shir Hayam members engaged in a hot dreidel game.

Players spin the dreidel top and take or relinquish peanuts depending which of four Hebrew letters turned up.

The Hebrew characters – hay, gimel, nune and shin – stand for a phrase that refers to the long-burning temple oil – “nes gadol hayah sham: a great miracle happened here.”

Jesse Mittleman spun the dreidel and said, “Hey, my ‘gimel’ streak has ended – what do I do?”

Someone said, “it’s shin – that means put one in.”

Next, Sam Weiss spun and lost.

“This is brutal,” Weiss said, as he ponied up another peanut.

Each family brought their version of the special Hanukkah dish, potato latkes.

Eaten with sour cream and applesauce, the pancakes of grated potato and onion are fried – another reminder of the miraculous temple oil.

No plates of Shir Hayam latkes resembled any other – in texture, color and taste, they were as varied as the menorahs.

“Last year we made the latkes during the party,” Weiss said. “They did taste better – but it was a mess to clean up.”

Ninety-year-old Alice Braunstein ate her potato latkes near a display of her craftwork – hand towels with crocheted tops.

“I’m going to send the profits to the poor in Jerusalem, the Israeli Red Cross and disabled Israeli soldiers,” Braunstein explained.

“My really big sale will be the lap robe – but I’m still working on that. Maybe I’ll have it finished for next Hanukkah.”

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