The Jewish community is known for having many holidays, such as Passover, Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year), and Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement). But for me, Hanukah is the one that feels the most festive. Maybe it’s because everyone in my community is celebrating their culture as well. Maybe it’s because it lasts for eight days. Maybe it’s the excitement I feel when driving by the Shalom Synagogue in Woodsdale and seeing the, “Festival of Lights” sign shining in the evening. It’s a special time of year for the Jewish community with so many unique traditions.
I typically celebrate with my parents and husband. It’s definitely “my” holiday in terms of hosting and serving, which I love doing! My favorite part is seeing my dad enjoy Hanukah because I know it reminds him of his childhood.
So, to mark the occasion, a few Wheelingites, myself included, who celebrate Hanukah have come together to answer all of your questions about Hanukah and share what makes this holiday so special to us.
Marc Dunbar, graduate of the West Virginia University College of Law, celebrates Hanukah with his family who lives in Woodsdale each year.
Wheeling resident, Ashley Sutton, is a newly-engaged young professional who was the owner and proprietor of a mobile boutique before the coronavirus arrived and also works as a bartender. She celebrates Hanukah with friends each year.
What is celebrated during Hanukah?
Jessica: Hanukah is the commemoration of the Second Temple of Jerusalem by the lighting of candles on each day during the eight days of festivities. Jewish practices were once outlawed and those of the Jewish faith were forced to worship Greek Gods.
These people rose to the occasion and an uprising began, according to legend, in the Maccabean Revolt. While the Jewish people were victorious, they only had enough oil to rededicate their temple for one night. To what can only be described as a miracle, the oil lasted for eight days.
This Jewish holiday celebrates freedom from oppression and is a true example of why freedom of religion is important for all.
Marc: Hanukah is a yearly reminder of how Jewish people didn’t fall to the Antiochus. It’s also important because it reminds us what the eight nights of Hanukah are about—the Jewish people taking back the Temple of Jerusalem and their freedom.
Ashley: It is about the history of the Jewish people taking back their prosperity. We usually celebrate by having dinner with our close friends. I cook a bunch of food and have people light menorahs.
How do you spell Hanukah…or is it Hannukah?!
Marc: Hanukah has about 16 different spellings. You can’t really go wrong! I prefer to spell it as Hannukah.
Ashley: I usually spell it as Chanukah, but I’ve used (other) spellings. The “ch” is a traditional way to spell it, but most people spell it as Hannukah. It’s all pretty fascinating!
Jessica: There are several ways to spell Hanukah, so whichever way you prefer, you should go for it! The different ways to spell Hanukah include Hanukkah, Chanukah, Chanukkah, Hanukah and the list goes on and on. My method as a child when I was at temple was picking my favorite form of spelling and sticking to it for 20 years. So far, it has worked for me.
What food is served?
Marc: My family enjoys eating latkes, which are traditional potato pancakes. They are good with sour cream, ketchup, applesauce or jelly. Also, when we play dreidel, we would play with gelt, which is traditional chocolate coins wrapped in gold foil.
Ashley: My favorite part of Hanukah is the noodle kugel, which is sort of like a baked casserole. Sweet kugel is the best. I also make a mean smoked chicken matzo ball soup. Oh, and of course I love the jelly donuts.
Jessica: Some delectable desserts served during Hanukah include jelly filled donuts, noodle kugel and hamantaschen cookies. My absolute favorite is rugelach. Rugelach is shaped like a croissant with the texture of a scone that has lots of chocolate inside. I made this one year and while it was delicious, it took hours and hours. It was a literal labor of love.
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I tend to stick to the same main dishes each year as I am excessively big on tradition. We have slow roasted brisket with a roux I make from scratch. Side dishes include chard brussel sprouts, challah, matzo ball soup and, of course, we have loads of latkes.
While there is a lot of fried food served during Hanukah, it isn’t only because fried food is delicious. It is traditional to serve food fried in oil as it symbolizes the miracle that took place in Jerusalem in 160 BCE.
I used to make my latkes homemade, but it takes an excessive amount of elbow work—literally. It would take hours to grate the potatoes, so now I rely on Manischewitz mix for saving me when it comes to large meals, but don’t tell my dad. He thinks my matzo ball soup is homemade and I can’t let him know otherwise.
Is gift-giving a part of the celebration?
Jessica: Gifts are certainly a part of Hanukah! Traditionally, one gift is given each night, totaling eight gifts. They can be small gifts, such as a bag of chocolate money or larger gifts.
One year, my parents gave me small gifts each day—a card one day, a ball the next—and on the final day, I received a large gift basket filled with gift cards and jewelry. Much like any occasion, however, it is the thought that counts and that goes for Hanukah as well.
Gifts are appreciated, but never needed to enjoy all that comes with Hanukah.
Ashley: As an adult, I don’t get many presents anymore, but I used to get small dreidels and chocolate coins as a child.
Marc: I celebrate Hanukah for eight nights each November or December, depending on the date, by spending time with my family and friends. We would have a short service where we light the candle, say prayers and sing songs. Afterwards, we would play dreidel for gelt, eat latkes and exchange presents. We would try to guess which candles were going to burn out first and have a good time spending time with each other.
Who can celebrate Hanukah?
Jessica: Any person who takes an interest in the Jewish faith is always welcome to join in the festivities. Temple Shalom is open to all and my table will always have an extra chair as well. That is one of the amazing things about Hanukah—it brings people together.
I have celebrated Hanukah with people of many different faiths and it is always a joy. While I enjoy learning about other religions, it is refreshing and fun when others want to learn about mine. Questions are encouraged and food is forced upon you whether you’re hungry or not.
Ashley: I celebrate with all religions. I think it’s important to respect everyone and anyone can celebrate to learn about a religion other their own. I think being open-minded to learning other people’s traditions makes the world a better place.
Marc: Everyone can celebrate Hanukah and if you get a chance to, I suggest you try! When I was in high school, I would invite friends over for Hanukah parties where we would all hang out and have a good time. I think everyone always appreciated getting to experience a different religion and culture.
What does Hanukah mean to you?
Marc: Hanukah represents the victory of the Jewish people over the rule of Antiochus and the reacquiring of the Temple of Jerusalem. I enjoy spending time with my family and friends while celebrating that.
Ashley: Hanukah is important because it carries on family traditions and shows that there is always hope.
Jessica: Hanukah is especially important, not just for Jewish people, but for everyone. It is a staple in history that proves the underdog will always triumph. The Maccabees proved that when anyone forces their beliefs on someone, it is unjust. The tradition of celebrating Hanukah requires reflection, appreciation and never forgetting the strength of the human spirit.
As you can see, Hanukah celebrations are rich with opportunities to learn and reflect while also enjoying food and gifts with family and friends. Do you celebrate Hanukah? What are your holiday traditions? Share them with us by commenting below.
• With a background in journalism and being a true Wheeling native, Jessica Broverman was destined to work with Weelunk. She holds a degree in journalism with a minor in criminal justice and works with Williams Lea Tag as a legal proofreader. When she isn’t typing away for Weelunk or WLT, she is enjoying a coffee at one of her many favorite spots in Wheeling, spending time with friends, or having fun with her husband Zachary and their two cats, Proctor and Max.