View from the Pew
Celebration in light
Candles or lamps will shine in windows around town tomorrow to celebrate a historical event that became a spiritual experience to be renewed each year.
The Hanukkah holiday will begin tomorrow, and Jewish families will hold special meals and gatherings for the next eight evenings, each time to light a new candle on the "hanukkiyah," a menorah with nine branches.
The Prayers of Hanukkah
Jewish families will recite traditional prayers as they light menorah candles on each of the eight days of Hanukkah.
"We praise you, Lord our God, ruler of the universe, for giving us life, for sustaining us and for enabling us to reach this season" is the prayer for the first night.
"We praise you, Lord our God, ruler of the universe, who hallows us with your commandments and commands us to kindle the Hanukkah lights."
"We praise you, Lord our God, ruler of the universe, who performed wondrous deeds for our ancestors in days of old, at this season."
Isle Jewish community hosts several celebrations
A public menorah lighting ceremony tomorrow at Waikiki Gateway Park will mark the beginning of the eight-day Hanukkah celebration.
Gov. Linda Lingle will participate in lighting an 18-foot candelabra in the park at Kalakaua and Kuhio avenues.
The celebration will begin at 5 p.m. with construction of a second menorah to be made of 5,000 Lego pieces. Members of Chabad of Hawaii have assembled the unique candelabra as an interactive way of involving children of Daniel Levy Chabad Hebrew School as participants in the festivities.
Both menorahs will be lit in a 6:30 p.m. celebration, which will also feature Jewish music and traditional food.
The local Jewish community will observe the festival with family celebrations and the following events.
» Chabad of Hawaii will sponsor its annual dinner party at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday at Ala Moana Hotel, Garden Lanai Ballroom, 401 Atkinson Drive. Hot latkes, potato pancakes, will be featured in the buffet. There will be a live auction and crafts and games for the children. Tickets are $20 for adults, $12 for children. Family, military and student discounts are available. Call 735-8161 for information.
» Temple Emanu-El will hold a Hanukkah Shabbat service at 7 p.m. Friday at the synagogue at 2550 Pali Highway. A supper of latkes, salad and dessert will follow, along with games and prizes for children. Tickets at the door will be $15 for nonmember adults and $8 for children. Discounts are offered for reservations made by Wednesday, and for temple members. Call 595-7521.
The ritual memorializes a miracle in Judea in 165 B.C. The conquering Assyrian-Greek empire had defiled the Jews' holy place with pagan practices. A band of Jewish fighters reclaimed the Temple in Jerusalem and wanted to rekindle the menorah. Only a small flask of consecrated lamp oil remained untainted, enough for one day. But the flame lasted for eight days -- a miracle!
It is a lighthearted festival, with the emphasis on families being together. Eating fried foods -- oil is a good thing -- is expected. Gifts are given, especially to children. Prizes are won in a top-spinning game; the tops, or dreidels, bear Hebrew letters standing for "A great miracle happened here."
Some Jewish holy days are established in the Torah, the Jewish scriptures, but Hanukkah is not one of them. The books that tell the story, Maccabees 1 and 2, were included in the Old Testament by early Christians but are not considered canonical -- inspired by God -- by Jews.
But the historical account of victorious warriors led by Judah Maccabee was written about and discussed by Talmudic sages, and as time went by, those rabbis "very clearly wanted to de-emphasize the militarism of the holiday. They were ambivalent about using the Jewish faith as a justification for war. From that feeling grew the story of the eight-day miracle; it did not appear until long after events actually occurred," said Rabbi Peter Schaktman, interim rabbi at Temple Emanu-El. "To me it is less significant that they re-spun the story, but why they re-spun it. What is most compelling is that the shapers of Jewish religious imagery wanted to emphasize the theme of peace and the power of God and not celebrate human military might."
Schaktman said: "As many Jewish festivals do, it begins with a historical reality and transforms into a spiritual reality. It is about maintaining one's identity in the face of oppression or even threat of assimilation. The legend of the miracle is about the fact that ancient Jews, and Jews in general, are rewarded for their steadfastness."
As a people that has been oppressed, sometimes tolerated, rarely welcomed in other cultures down through history, "one of the ways we have historically dealt with this is to imagine that God wants us to be steadfast, challenges us to maintain our identity," Schaktman said. "An important theme in Jewish life is that we have to be true to ourselves even when the going gets tough. That's what Hanukkah is."
The story grabs the imagination of non-Jews, and so does the underlying theme ring bells in the 21st century. Schaktman was recently invited to tell about it in Punahou School chapel sessions. "The notion of religious freedom for all is a natural segue," said the rabbi, "the right of everyone to be what they are without being oppressed or without being expected to assimilate."
GEORGE F. LEE / GLEE@STARBULLETIN.COM
Temple Emanu-El Rabbi Peter Schaktman places candles on a menorah in preparation for the Hanukkah season.
The midwinter holiday, set by the Hebrew lunar calendar, puts Hanukkah in the same time line as Christmas. For some Americans the religious holiday gets cranked up by the commercialized frenzy that taints Christmas -- more and bigger gifts and parties.
"The notion of giving everyone a gift, the postman, the secretary ... the notion of a Hanukkah list -- when Jews do that, they are participating in the American concept of the holiday," said the rabbi, who came to Hawaii in September after a year as interim rabbi at a New York synagogue. "It is aided and abetted by the Christmas spirit. I don't know if people would have such elaborate gatherings if it wasn't the Christmas season. They don't in places where Christmas isn't celebrated.
"There's a certain irony that Hanukkah has taken on certain trappings of Christmas, because here is a holiday meant to celebrate our refusal to assimilate," Schaktman pointed out, saying it can be a "challenge not to assimilate into the general American Christmas culture. In taking on some of the commercial aspects of Christmas, we are borrowing some of the least religious parts of the Christmas celebration."
Back to the beginning mention of candles in the window: There is a commandment, "Pirsum ha-nes," or "Proclaim the miracle."
"It is meant to be put in a public place for people to see the light and be reminded of the miracle of the candles burning for eight days," Schaktman said.
A prayer is recited with each Hanukkah candle-lighting, a special ritual not done when the seven-arm menorah is lighted for Shabbat services throughout the year. That candelabra represents the seven days of the week.
"Also, lighting the candles is meant to be experienced, meant to be enjoyed," said the rabbi. "You don't light the candles, then walk away. As long as the candle is burning, the family is together." That is when gifts are given -- traditionally, just small ones to children -- and dreidels would be played. In days of old, the prizes might have been coins, but today, foil-wrapped chocolate "gelt" goes to the winners.
The Hawaii parties likely will feature latkes, potato pancakes that are best eaten crispy, right out of the pan. That is a European version of the fried-food tradition. In Israel the favorite holiday treats are jelly doughnuts.
There had to be women influencing those ancient sages. There is another tradition that while the candles are burning, women are excused from work to just enjoy the candlelight. Well, ye-ah! After cleaning the house and cooking the latkes, Mama should get to sit back and rest. The next tradition might be that Papa and the kids do the cleaning up.
Schaktman said one of his usual lines on that subject is, "It's probably no accident that Hanukkah candles are small and burn out very quickly!"