How Romans celebrate Hanukkah
The holiday honors an ancient victory.
It is not Jewish Christmas. In fact the Jewish Festival of Lights, as it is sometimes called, is about freedom and how a few prevailed over the many, said Bob Troy, a 20-year member of the Rodeph Sholom Congregation. Troy was gathered with other Jewish community members Friday night to celebrate the fifth night of Hanukkah.
The members of the Rodeph Sholom Congregation brought food that was prepared in oil, a Hanukkah custom. The most common food found at the meal was latkes, or potato pancakes, with accompanying sour cream or apple sauce to dip the latkes in. Members of the congregation laughingly admitted there was no cultural significance in the dipping sauces, it just tastes good. Jennifer Hoyt, Evan Ross and their children lit the Menorah, the nine-armed candelabrum of Hanukkah.
To understand the customs practiced during Hanukkah, it is important to become familiar with the basic history of the holiday. Hanukkah is the only Jewish holiday that celebrates a military victory, Troy said. The ancient Maccabees, Jewish rebels of c. 165 B.C., overthrew the Seleucid Empire. The empire had banned the practice of Judaism and tried to force the Jewish people to worship Greek gods. The Maccabees overthrew the Seleucid’s despite being outnumbered, and rededicated the temple in Jerusalem.
“You don’t mess with God’s people,” said Troy.
The victors lit the Menorah in the temple, however they only had enough holy oil for one day. The priests sent for more, but it was located in southern Israel, an eight-day journey. The temple Menorah miraculously stayed lit for the entire eight days, which are now represented by the modern nine-armed Menorah used during Hanukkah.
The ninth candle is the Shamus, or helper candle, said lifetime congregation member Shelly Peller. Every night for eight nights, Jewish families gather in their homes lighting the Shamus candle first, and then one candle for every night of Hanukkah. Hanukkah foods are prepared in oil in remembrance of the holy oil that kept the Menorah lit.
Members of the congregation had different comparisons when it came to Hanukkah. Ane Lewinson, who has been with the congregation since 2001, said there are zero similarities with Christmas, they’re just in the same month. Troy found some similarities, comparing the religious freedom Christians found through the birth of Jesus with the freedom the Jews found in their victory. Peller said she sees a closer resemblance to Thanksgiving, comparing the religious freedom the Jews found in their ancient revolution to the freedom the Pilgrims found fleeing England. Regardless, it is a holiday with its own traditions, cultural meanings and a holiday of pride for many Jewish people.
Clementine Ross (left), 7, watches as her brother Langston Ross, 5, lights the Menorah for the fifth day of Hanukkah. Mother Jennifer Hoyt (back, from left) and father Evan Ross watch along with friends Miriam Loya, 13, and her mother Ane Lewinson.