By Carol Glassman
As Jewish families gathered to light the first candle of Chanukah on Saturday, December 8, it was mind-boggling to recall how far they have come in so many ways.
More than twenty-one centuries ago, the Holy Land was ruled by the Seleucids (Syrian-Greeks), who tried to force the people of Israel to adopt their religious ways. A small band of faithful Maccabean Jews defeated one of the mightiest armies on earth, drove the Greeks from the land, reclaimed the Temple in Jerusalem and rededicated it to the service of God. However, when they tried to light the Temple’s menorah (candelabrum), they found only a single cruse of olive oil that had escaped contamination by the Greeks. Miraculously, the one-day supply burned for eight days, until new oil could be prepared under conditions of ritual purity
The festival of Chanukah commemorates miracles, of overcoming fate with faith. Each of eight nights the menorah is lit: a single flame on the first night, two on the second evening, and so on until the eighth night of Chanukah, when all eight lights are kindled. The center flame or shumash is used to light the other eight candles. During Chanukah special daily prayers are added to offer praise and thanksgiving to God for “delivering the strong into the hands of the weak, the many into the hands of the few, the wicked into the hands of the righteous”.
Chabad of Naples has successfully piqued the interest of the entire Jewish community by creating a unique menorah every year for the past nine years –(from one made of Legos to a 30-foot aluminum structure, to a menorah filled with jellybeans). This year’s mighty menorah rose at the Village on Venetian Bay, on Sunday, December 9, the second night of Chanukah. It was created from a series of 25-foot scissor lifts, and the first candles were lit by Mayor John Sorey III, with hundreds of people witnessing the event. Mayor Sorey spoke in appreciation of living in a country like America where religious freedoms are enjoyed. By then the real celebration was already under way for the whole family with a live concert by Benji Rafeli, spontaneous folk dancing, crafts, face painting, and traditional food.
Chanukah customs include eating foods fried in oil: latkes (potato pancakes) and soufganiyot (doughnuts); playing with the dreidel, a spinning top on which are inscribed the Hebrew letters nun, gimmel, hei and shin, an acronym for Nes Gadol Hayah Sham, “a great miracle happened there”; and the giving of Chanukah gelt, gifts of money to children and to charity.
And, there is an app, or actually there are several apps, for that. Some can be summoned on your iPhone or iPad and will instruct you not only how and where to light the candles but also will lead you in the prayers. Another app gives you a choice of Chanukiah (candelabrum), background, and allows you to light the candles with a sweep of your finger. But there is no app that can give you the satisfaction of tasting a well-fried potato latke, or sinking your teeth into a freshly-baked soufganiyot, the sweet, filled doughnut fried in oil. Recipes may vary from baker to baker, but the basic sweet dough is usually the same and made daily by hand. As small batches are browned on each side, a white band in the middle remains as the location where a filler, such as jam, is injected, after each soufganiyot is cooled and dusted with icing sugar.
Each bite into this traditional sweet is said to return one to into that temple, where a few drops of oil kept a candelabra burning for eight days. This miracle of Chanukah illustrates the power of faith, and how by celebrating with oil one can be reminded of how to lead his life.
The bringing of Chanukah ‘light’ to the world, one candle at a time, is equated with enlightenment, overcoming ignorance with learning and information, and performing acts of kindness, one deed at a time.
As Chabad Rabbi Zaklos pointed out, “To us, a scissor lift represents that one can make himself humble and yet can stand tall. On Chanukah, it is a time for both: when we simple, ordinary folk can stand tall and proud in recognition and celebration of the history of our people and how they overcame the greatest odds to practice religious freedom.”