Hanukkah: Celebrating light and freedom

SUNSET, TUESDAY DECEMBER 16—What’s the most common experience when families gather for annual holidays like Hanukkah?

We remember.

The 8-day Jewish festival of Hanukkah is not like Christmas, so far-flung Jewish relatives don’t rush home for these holidays as Christian families migrate for Christmas day. However, the whole point of lighting the Hanukkah candles, each night, is to remember connections stretching back thousands of years. Often, parents and their children enjoy the ritual together to establish this tradition for future generations.

So, this year for Hanukkah, ReadTheSpirit online magazine also is remembering. After more than seven years and more than 5,000 columns, we have published some truly bright Hanukkah “lights.” Enjoy …


In her inspiring book, This Jewish Life, Debra Darvick writes dozens of true stories about Jewish men and women experiencing the seasons in Judaism. In one section of her book, she explains the basics about Hanukkah’s commemoration of “the Jewish victory over Syrian emperor Antiochus and his army. In 167 BC, Antiochus decreed the practice of Judaism to be an offense punishable by death. The Temple was desecrated, and the Syrians went so far as to sacrifice pigs in the Temple. A Jew named Mattathias and his five sons began a revolt not only against Antiochus, but against the Jews who were quite willing to take on the ways of the majority population and jettison Jewish practice. Three years later, the Maccabees, as the Jewish fighters were known, and their followers, were victorious and the Temple was once again in Jewish hands.”

She explains that “according to Jewish tradition, when the Temple was finally cleansed for re-dedication, there was but a single day’s supply of ritually pure oil for the ner tamid, the everlasting light that hangs in every synagogue as a symbol of God’s ever-presence. Miraculously, the oil lasted for eight days, the time needed to press and ritually purify additional oil for the ner tamid.”

How is the holiday marked in Jewish homes today? “The cornerstone … is the lighting of the menorah, an eight-branched candelabra. There is a place for a ninth candle on every menorah for the shamash, the ‘helper candle’ used to light the other eight. Each night, an additional candle is lit.”

Debra warns readers that this “is not the time of year to start a diet, for the two foods most associated with the holiday are latkes, potato pancakes, and sufganiot, Israeli for jelly donuts, both of which are fried in veritable lakes of oil.” Oh, and if that’s not a high enough calorie count—there’s also the “gelt, chocolate coins wrapped in gold foil.”


We’re stretching back to 2009 to recommend this column by Debra, headlined “Remembering the Pure Light of Our Traditions.”

In addition to her occasional pieces in ReadTheSpirit, Debra writes another intriguing column “Dear Debra” for The Jewish News. A Dear Abby fan since childhood, Debra often fantasized about having her own advice column. Her dream came true when the Detroit Jewish News chose her to write a new advice column. She has weighed in on matters large and small from tattoos and tardy friends to helicopter parenting and runaway guest lists, always drawing on her her trademark sechel—a terrific Yiddish word encompassing common sense, street smarts, and wisdom. You don’t have to be Jewish to have tsuris (problems and heartache), and you certainly don’t have to be Jewish to send Debra a problem. Check out Debra’s columns and, if you have your own tsuris, write her at [email protected] or submit your problem using the form accompanying her column.


Every week, Bobbie Lewis brings readers a new story about the way food connects with faith and family traditions in her popular column FeedTheSpirit.

For Hanukkah (or “Chanukah” as Bobbie spells it), she invited writer Sheri Schiff to share her delightful story about latkes. You’ll love this story: One year, Sheri dreamed up a solution to making latkes without leaving a heavy aroma in her home—and her clever idea wound up feeding friends and neighbors! Now, her front-porch latkes are a beloved neighborhood tradition. And, yes, Sheri shares a yummy latke recipe with readers.

OUR MOST POPULAR FAITH-AND-FOOD BOOK—Whatever your faith, whatever your family traditions may be, Lynne Meredith Golodner’s book makes a terrific holiday gift: The Flavors of Faith—Holy Breads.

A veteran food writer, Lynne invites you to circle the globe, then step into your kitchen to make breads from sacred Native American, Jewish, Christian and Muslim traditions. Holy Breads is the first book in a new series, The Flavors of Faith, which will inspire and nourish readers with real-life stories and cross-cultural food traditions.


At ReadTheSpirit, we are pleased to end 2014 with the promise of a new book by the popular stand-up comic and author “Bob Alper,” aka Rabbi Robert Alper (America’s only practicing rabbi who also works full-time as a standup comic). Stay tuned for an announcement in early 2015.

If you haven’t already purchased his earlier book—Thanks. I Needed That—then now is a perfect opportunity. In fact, we will close this Hanukkah column by urging you to read a holiday sample-chapter from that book, called Mrs. Steinberg’s Christmas Tree.

Here’s a sample of that chapter … “For Jewish kids, especially Jewish kids like me in the early 1950s, December was a tough month, our feeble little holiday contrasting flimsily against our Christian friends’ major joyfest. I even have a vague memory of making a modified advent wreath of paper rings in one public school classroom. Every day for several weeks, each of us pulled off one paper ring, watching the object grow smaller and smaller, until, at the very end, it would be CHRISTMAS! Hooray!! (Oh, except for you, Bobby.)”

Go on, read the entire true story!

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