Spinning dreidels, gelt and oily goodness

[attach]7252[/attach]Even in my 30s, as a single gal toiling away in a newsroom most evenings, I try to set aside time each year to mark Hanukkah.

As far as Jewish holidays go, the eight-day Festival of Lights is not as solemn an occasion as other holidays of remembrance or prayer throughout the year.

Unlike Rosh Hashanah or Yom Kippur, there is no requirement to fast or attend temple services, and unlike Passover, there are no dietary restrictions.

In fact, if you’re not consuming some kind of oily, doughy goodness on Hanukkah, some might say you’re not marking it at all.

Put simply, Hanukkah commemorates the re-establishment of the holy temple in Jerusalem after a revolt during a time of assimilation and religious persecution in the second century BCE.

During the rededication of the temple, there was only enough oil to light the temple’s candelabra — or menorah — for one day, but the oil burned for eight days, providing enough light and time to replenish the supply.

To honour and celebrate the miracle, many Jews light candles placed on a menorah each night for eight days.

Every adult whose family is even mildly observant of the Jewish faith and customs has fond memories of Hanukkahs past. The celebration usually falls around the Christmas season, and children receive gifts (one for each night!) and play with a dreidel (a spinning top).

Friends of the Jewish faith often gasp when I tell them I’m not partial to sufganiyot (fruit jelly-filled donuts often referred to as the official dessert of Hanukkah). They are nowhere near as irresistible as a plate of latkes — those mouth-watering, dripping with oil potato pancakes we also eat on Hanukkah.

Given the symbolism, the true spirit of the festival is in the lighting of the candles. As a child, long after the riches of chocolate coins (Hanukkah gelt) had been enjoyed and the dreidels spun, I would linger in the dining room, watching the candles flicker and dance in response to the slightest movement of air.

For me, the lighting of the candles puts in greater focus the concept of miracles — the idea that they can and do occur, and to acknowledge them in whatever form they may take in our daily lives.

Like many churches and charities, Jewish organizations conduct toy and food drives this time of year to ensure that no child goes
without. If that’s not performing a small miracle, I’m not sure what is.

So again this year I will light the candles and hope that every child, regardless of religious background, has a gift to open — and more than just a latke or two to fill their bellies — this holiday season.

Happy Hanukkah from midtown!