By Rob Montana
One of the biggest misconceptions about Hanukkah is that it is the Jewish equivalent to Christmas.
“Or people assume Hanukkah is very important,” said Rabbi Scott Glass when asked about the biggest misconceptions about the Jewish holiday. “It’s a nice holiday, and doesn’t come with a lot of burdens, which is very pleasant for us.”
Glass serves Temple Beth-El, a liberal synagogue founded in 1924 and affiliated with The United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism.
“You can just have fun, and there is not a lot we have to do,” he added. “With other (Jewish) holidays there is more asked of us or we have to do more to prepare for them.”
Hanukkah takes place on the 25th day of Kislev on the Hebrew calendar, and it can fall anytime between late-November to late-December on the Georgian calendar.
This year, the holiday comes in mid-December, starting the evening of Tuesday, December 12, and ending the evening of Wednesday, December 20.
The holiday, Glass said, “essentially commemorates the re-dedication of the temple in Jerusalem after it was defiled by Helenists in 165 BCE.”
Upon capturing Jerusalem, Antiochus IV Epiphanes looted the temple, stopped services and outlawed Jewish religious practices. His actions led to revolt, and the temple was liberated and re-dedicated. According to the Talmud, unadulterated and undefiled pure olive oil was needed for the menorah in the Temple, which was required to burn throughout the night every night. The only oil found was in a flask that had one day’s supply, but the oil lasted long enough to burn for eight days – the amount of time needed to prepare a fresh supply of kosher oil for the menorah.
That led to the creation of eight-day festival of Hanukkah to commemorate the miracle.
“The primary observance is kindling the Hanukkah lights,” said Glass. “Each night we kindle an additional light – that’s the primary observance.
“A lot of people will eat fried foods because of the legend of oil that lasted for eight days to rekindle the menorah in the temple in Jerusalem,” he added. “There is a custom of playing dreidel, a spinning top. There’s not really much more than that.”
Glass said the custom of presents being exchanged is something that came along much later.
“That is associated, to a large extent, to Christmas,” he said. “It’s like the commercialization of any holiday. That kind of followed up with the feeling from Jewish parents that ‘we have to make up for what our kids aren’t getting that kids who celebrate Christmas are getting.’
“It’s grown way out of proportion and has taken on a lot more significance than is tradition,” Glass added.
On Sunday, two days in advance of Hanukkah, Temple Beth-El hosted its annual festival for the holiday. There were handmade arts and crafts and Jewish books for sale, and potato latkes and apple fritters for tasting. An all ages concert by Max Buckholtz and Friends entertained the crowd at midday, and craft activities took place during the afternoon.
That’s about the biggest event the temple will host in celebration of Hanukkah, said Rabbi Scott Glass.
“It’s before Hanukkah, one of the reasons is because it gives people the opportunity to buy books and gifts and things like that for Hanukkah,” he said. “Over the years, it has developed into something that kind of complements the Hanukkah celebration. There is music, craft activities, story time and things like that, all rolled into the event.”
During the rest of the week, Glass said, there aren’t really any major events at Temple Beth-El until it hosts a party for the congregation on Sunday, December 17.
“Basically, it’s a dinner,” he said. “We light candles together, have dinner together. The kids play dreidel.
“That’s really the extent of the events we have,” Glass added. “Mostly, it’s an at-home holiday and people light candles at home – that’s really the major observance.”
Congregation Tikkun v’Or, a progressive congregation in Ithaca, is hosting a Shabbat Chanukah event Friday, December 15, at its Triphammer Road location, with a candle lighting service and latke party that will feature, signing, storytelling and eating together.
Glass said he wants people of all faiths to celebrate their holiday and enjoy it.
“I appreciate the fact people have enough respect to ask about my holiday and be concerned about it, but I don’t feel deprived,” he said. “I don’t feel there has to be equal – you know, 50-50 – treatment.
“I would also be happy for people to understand, for me, religious observances are a personal and private thing,” Glass added. “Everybody should be free to practice their religion at home and houses of worship, and really enjoy them and not feel compelled to do it publicly.”
For more information about Congregation Tikkun v’Or, visit TikkunvOr.org; for more information about Temple Beth-El, visit TBEIthaca.org.
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