When: 5:30 p.m. today
Where: Cresswind at Lake Lanier clubhouse, 3007 Scarlet Oak Lane, Gainesville
More info: 404-348-0429
When: 7:10 p.m. Friday
Where: Shalom b’Harim, inside Dahlonega Presbyterian Church, 150 Warwick St., Dahlonega.
What to bring: Latkes to share and menorahs to light
Other major Jewish holidays
- Passover, April 3-11
- Rosh Hashanah, Sept. 13-15
- Yom Kippur, Sept. 22-23
It’s the time of year when evergreen trees are trimmed with twinkling lights, halls are decked with holly and stockings are hung with care. The glow of Christmas is easy to spot, but in some Northeast Georgia homes, that glow is coming not from a tree but from a menorah.
Hanukkah is today and the local Jewish community is preparing to celebrate its Festival of Lights.
Rabbi Mitch Cohen of Shalom b’Harim in Dahlonega said historically, Hanukkah celebrates the victory of the Jewish army, the Maccabees, over Syrian forces. It also celebrates the rededication of the temple in Jerusalem, which had been ruined during battle.
It is called the festival of lights because of the miracle of the oil, when a day’s worth of oil lasted for eight days in their temple.
“The rabbis collaborated to come up with a really wonderful tradition of the oil lasting eight days, and of course we celebrate by lighting the holiday menorah, building up to the eighth candle,” Cohen said.
Thoughout the years, Americans have come to acknowledge Hanukkah as a major Jewish holiday, he said, but it wasn’t always that way.
“Christmas envy,” is what Cohen calls it. And it started happening in the 1950s, he said.
“My mom told us when she was a little girl, only the kids got gifts and they got either candy or a penny, so it was very nominal,” he said.
As Christmas celebrations and gift giving grew, Jewish Americans began to put more emphasis on Hanukkah for the children, he said. He added his three sons never felt like they were missing out on Christmas.
“We made such a big deal about Hanukkah in our house,” Cohen said. “My wife would put up all types of Hanukkah decorations. And we did it more traditionally where they got gifts every night for the eight days. So they looked forward to each night during Hanukkah.”
In addition to gift giving, traditional fried foods such as latkes, or potato pancakes, are served to remember the oil that lasted in the temple.
Karen Katz, a member at Shalom b’ Harim, enjoys combining Jewish and American traditions when it comes to holiday food.
“Last year, the first night of Hanukkah fell on Thanksgiving,” she said. “We served sweet potato pancakes, and I found a recipe to baste a turkey with Manischewitz wine.”
Though Katz doesn’t celebrate Christmas, like many Jewish people, she said she still appreciates the energy of the holidays.
“Christmas is so magical,” she said. “When I was growing up in New York, we’d go to see the Christmas lights, and seeing the tree lit up in Rockefeller Center. That’s something that everybody enjoys.”
Now that she lives in Georgia, where the Jewish community is smaller, she said she cherishes Hanukkah more.
“When you live over here, you have to appreciate the contact you have with other Jewish people because we’re so spread out so you have to make much more of an effort,” she said.
In Gainesville, Hanukkah celebrations will happen in the Cresswind community, where residents will light the menorah throughout the eight days, city resident Bruce Dreyfus said.
“The most important thing to know is that it’s celebrating a miracle,” he said.