How Ro­mans cel­e­brate Hanukkah

The hol­i­day hon­ors an an­cient vic­tory.

Rome News-Tribune - - FRONT PAGE - By John Popham [email protected]

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.

/ John Popham

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.

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