By Carole Glassman
As the potpourri of faiths that compose our community enjoys the holiday season, members of the Jewish community celebrate the eight days of Chanukah. This year the eight-day Festival of Light began on Tuesday, December 20, the evening of the 25th day of the Jewish month of Kislev. Chanukah celebrates the triumph of light over darkness, purity over adulteration, and the spiritual over the material. If that sounds like a large order, trace it back to its origins in the Holy Land, more than 21 centuries ago when the Syrian Greeks known as the Seleucids tried to impose their Hellenic ways on the Judeans by forcing them to abandon their religion and the Torah.
By their resistance, a small group of faithful Maccabee Jews was successful in driving out one of the most powerful armies of the time, and reclaiming the Holy Temple in Jerusalem to be rededicated to the service of God. When they attempted to light the Temple’s candelabrum or sacred Menorah, they could find only one small flask of olive oil that had not been contaminated by the Greeks. Somehow, this one-day supply lasted for eight days, burning continuously until new oil could be ritually purified. An event such as this defied all rational explanation, and was known as “a miracle”.
Today, the Festival of Chanukah commemorates this miracle. Each evening, one more candle is lit in the Menorah until all eight lights are burning. Other customs include eating foods fried in oil such as potato pancakes (latkes), and round doughnuts stuffed with jelly (sufganiyot). A spinning four-sided top called a dreidl has the Hebrew letters nun, gimmel, hei, and shin on each side, an acronym for Nes Gadol Hayah Sham, “A great miracle happened there”. Children are given gifts of money, Chanukah gelt.
Each day during Chanukah prayers are added, thanking God for “delivering the strong into the hands of the weak, the many into the hands of the few, and the wicked into the hands of the righteous.”
The Chabad Organization of Naples and Marco Island always seems to find a unique way to celebrate Chanukah, making it memorable for children and adults alike. In 2010, they constructed a giant Menorah from legos. This year, in the parking lot of the Chabad Center, members created a huge dreidl, while congregants and the public who attended the Grand Chanukah Festival in the Village on Venetian Bay on December 20 were treated to a large, sweet Menorah filled with jelly beans. The event, open to everyone in the community, attracted hundreds of people of all ages. They gathered together in a festive mood to enjoy the traditional foods, listen to the songs of the season by singer Benji Rafaeli, participate in the dancing, and learn about Chanukah. The children who attend the Chabad Hebrew School added to the enjoyment with their songs and a tribute to their school. As the sun set, Naples Mayor Bill Barnett lit the first Chanukah candle.
The message of Chanukah, not to be afraid of the dark, prevails. There is a power of light within each person to appreciate the beauty that surrounds everyone. Light over darkness: fighting fear with education. One candle at a time. These are the positive messages Chabad brings to the community.