Hanukkah blends old and new traditions

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In D.C. during the holidays? Here’s what to do.D.C. Minyan Hanukkah Party (age 21 & up)
Night of Sat., Dec. 16
Drink specials and sufganiyot (traditional jelly doughnuts)
Tom Tom’s, second floor
2333 18th St. N.W.

National Menorah Lighting
Sun., Dec. 17, 4 p.m.
One word: Dreidelman
White House Ellipse
17th Street and Constitution Avenue N.W.
Tickets are free but required; call (202) 332-5600 or use the form on the official site.

Hanukkah Happy Hour on the Hill (age 21 & up)
Mon., Dec. 18, 6-9 p.m.
Hosted by EntryPointDC: Gesher City
The Pour House
319 Pennsylvania Ave. S.E.
RSVP to entrypointdc@geshercity.org

Chanukah Seder
Tues., Dec. 19, 7:30-9 p.m.
Mediterranean dinner; comedic songs by David Smolar
Sixth and I Synagogue
606 Eye Street N.W.
Tickets $20-$25; please RSVP

20th Annual Dec. 25 Community Service Day
Mon., Dec. 25, 6 a.m.-6 p.m.
More than 1,000 participants volunteer with 70 social service agencies and their clients. Volunteers feed the homeless, paint shelters and more.

By CARI DIMARGO

WASHINGTON, Dec. 16 – The first candles of this year’s Hanukkah celebration lit up the night of Dec. 15, as Jews around the world began the eight-day celebration of light during the darkest days of winter.

Hanukkah begins on the 25th day of the Hebrew month Kislev, which means the holiday varies on the standard calendar. “For the first time, current college students might be celebrating after the fact,” said Hillary Blank, president of the AU Jewish Student Association. Some students will be heading home to their families after the holiday is over.

The origins of Hanukkah date back to the fourth century B.C.E., when Israel fell under Hellenic rule. In 167 B.C.E., the king Antiochus decided to force Jews to assimilate, banning Jewish rituals and taking over the sacred temple of Jerusalem. Eventually, Judah Maccabee led a revolt.

The odds seemed impossible, but the revolutionaries prevailed and reclaimed their defiled temple. The legend says they had only enough oil for one night, yet the oil lasted for eight nights, long enough to clean and restore the temple.

While many Jews today believe in the miracle of the oil, others believe the miracle was in the survival of the Jewish people.

“I’m sort of skeptical of the miracle of the oil, or miracles in general, so I guess I do take that as more allegorical, with the survival of the Jewish people as the real miracle,” said Natalie Prizel, a junior at University of Maryland.

Different aspects of Hanukkah are emphasized during different times in history.

“Historically, when educators taught about Hanukkah, they picked up influences of the time,” said Michelle Weiss, education director at Congregation Etz Hayim in Arlington, Va. “At the time of the American Revolution, they focused on the revolutionaries. In times of peace, they focused more on the miracle.”

During Hanukkah, Jews light hanukkiahs, nine-branched candelabras known widely as menorahs. However, menorahs actually have only seven candles and are used to illuminate synagogues year-round.

“One of my favorite traditions is while the hanukkiah is lit, you only spend time with your family,” Weiss said. “You don’t talk on the phone to your friends or play video games; it’s about quality family time.”

Celebrants often eat foods fried in oil, symbolizing the oil in the temple. Latkes are a perennial favorite, served with a side of apple sauce or sour cream. Children and adults alike play dreidel games to win money or foil-wrapped chocolate coins. Like many Jewish holidays, the emphasis here is on the home and family.

Hanukkah is not considered a major holiday in traditional Judaism. But the cultural competition of Christmas has led many families to go all out with celebrations and presents.

“We always grew up getting presents, partially just because of living in America and Christmas being so ubiquitous,” said Prizel. Many Jewish families don’t want their children to feel left out of the mainstream.

“In the schools, we’re trying to enforce that Hanukkah is not a major holiday, which is actually what the holiday is all about, not assimilating into a larger culture,” said Weiss.

Sometimes the larger world does interfere, and that’s when people have to get inventive. Prizel’s fiance Kelly Fitzpatrick, is converting to Judaism, and she grew up having a Christmas tree. “Kelly and I have a tree now,” said Prizel. “It’s called our Jewmas tree. It’s got Jewish stars on it and is decorated in blue and silver, and then we light the hanukkah.”

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