Most people don’t know a lot about Hanukkah. They know it’s a Jewish holiday. They know that there are candles, and that it goes on for several days. They know it involves presents and usually occurs around Christmas.
But, it’s a lot more than that, said Mitchell Weiss, executive director for Congregation Kol Ami.
“It’s a story of miracle. It’s a story of survival,” he said.
It’s a story that dates back many centuries, when the Maccabees reclaimed a temple that had been defiled by the Syrian Greeks in Jerusalem. There was only one jar of oil, enough to keep the lamps lit for one day. Instead, the oil lasted for eight days, which was enough time to replenish the oil.
This event was hailed as a miracle, and Hanukkah, which can be spelled different ways, is celebrated as the “Festival of Lights.”
Jews acknowledge the holiday by lighting a menorah (a candelabrum, also called a Hanukkiah) for eight nights, adding a candle each day until all eight, plus a head candle, are lit together.
There are other traditions as well.
A spinning top called a dreidel is used to play a game, often with gelt, which are coin-shaped chocolates. Serving latkes, which are potato pancakes, is another tradition.
There are songs and melodies, prayers and a recounting of the miracle, as well.
The sharing of those activities is what makes Hanukkah special, Weiss explained.
“It’s all about the story, it’s all about remembering,” he said.
Weiss, now 58 and living in Wesley Chapel, has his own memories of Hanukkah. He grew up in Edison, New Jersey, in an area with a large Jewish community. So large, in fact, it was nicknamed “Hanukkah Hill.” Some of his fondest memories include when his grandmother (who was a Holocaust survivor) would make latkes. Hers were a bit different, being made with squash instead of potatoes. He also remembers using a special menorah that he made with his father and brother when he was 10.
Even though those celebrations occurred decades ago, the traditions survive in his family. He still has his grandmother’s recipe, and the Weiss’ enjoy squash latkes each year. And, the menorah he used as a child still resides in his parents’ home. Seeing it brings back special memories, he said.
It’s not unusual for adults to rekindle fond memories of Hanukkah from their own youth, Weiss said.
Kol Ami has a special Hanukkah celebration each year that’s open to the public, on the third night of the holiday. While it’s a time for celebration, it also conjures up a bit of nostalgia.
“We have a lot of seniors here that, in their past when they had their holidays, they remember the good times with their parents,” Weiss explained. “When we have the candle-lighting ceremony, sometimes there are tears, because they remember how good it was when they had Hanukkah.”
Today, children still have it pretty good, with presents usually opened on each of the eight nights. But, like Christmas, the holiday goes beyond material gifts. It’s about fond memories, continuing traditions and spending time with loved ones.
“All Jewish holidays are always about family. No matter what holiday it is, it’s all about family,” Weiss said.
Where: Congregation Kol Ami, 3919 Moran Road, Tampa
What: Hanukkah Celebration, including a musical program, a pasta dinner, lighting of the Hanukkiah and games.
When: Dec. 9 at 6 p.m.
How much: The event is free and open to the public.
For more information or to RSVP, call (813) 962-6338, or email .
Where: Congregation Mekor Shalom, 14005A N. Dale Mabry Highway
What: Third Annual 4th Night, 3rd Light Hanukkah. The celebration will include latkes and lighting of menorahs. Visitors are encouraged to bring their own Hanukkiah to join in the celebration.
When: Dec. 9 at 6:30 p.m.
For more information, call (813) 963-1818, or visit MekorShalom.org.
Where: The Shops at Wiregrass, 28211 Paseo Drive, in front of Dillard’s.
What: Chabad at Wiregrass will host its Chanukah Street Fair, which includes hot potato latkes, doughnuts and gelt, as well as live entertainment, face-painting, magic, games and a photo booth. They will also light the menorah.
When: Dec. 13 from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m.
Who: It’s free and open to the public. For more information, call (813) 642-3244, or visit ChabadatWiregrass.com.
Where: Chabad at Wiregrass, 2124 Ashley Oaks Circle
What: Chanukah bash and teen heritage night, which includes a limousine ride to Amalie Arena to see the Tampa Bay Lightning and a menorah lighting at Thunder Alley.
When: Dec. 10 at 5:30 p.m.
For more information, call (813) 642-3244, or visit ChabadatWiregrass.com.
Published December 2, 2015