This picture shows Ora Stefanic, flanked by her daughters Oreet and Ortal, during Hanukkah last year.

This picture shows Ora Stefanic, flanked by her daughters Oreet and Ortal, during Hanukkah last year.

Hanukkah lights up December

For David Blades, Hanukkah is a three-letter word: fun.

“We play dreidel, we play games,” said Blades, president of the Jewish Federation of Victoria and Vancouver Island, when asked about the importance of Hanukkah for the local Jewish community. “It’s really about family getting together.”

An estimated 1,500 members of the Jewish faith representing a variety of communities and traditions of religious observance call the Greater Victoria area home, and later this month many will gather to celebrate Hanukkah, the Feast of Illumination, according to the Talmund, the primary source of Jewish religious law.

It originated after Jewish rebels led by Judah the Maccabee recaptured Jerusalem from the Seleucids, a Greek-Syrian culture, during a rebellion that lasted from 167 to 160 BC. The Seleucids had forbidden Jewish religious practices, and used the (Second) Holy Temple for pagan practices. After rebels had recovered the temple, they wanted to re-dedicate it. This re-dedication required oil to light the temple’s hanukkiah, but only one day’s supply of olive oil was available. But a miracle happened along the way. The oil lasted for eight days, during which rebels were able to make more oil.

Hanukkah in turn memorializes this re-dedication, and more broadly, symbolizes freedom.

‘That’s the important part of Hanukkah,” said Blades. “We don’t have to live under oppression.”

Ora Stefanic echoes this point. “For our family, Hanukkah is a holiday to remember our right for the freedom of every soul in the world,” she said.

Hanukkah does not have a fixed date, contrary to Christmas. Catholic and Protestant Christians generally celebrate Christmas on the eve of Dec. 24 or the morning of Dec. 25, while Orthodox Christians generally celebrate on or Jan. 7, a difference stemming from western Christendom and eastern Christendom using different solar calendars.

Hanukkah follows the more variable lunar calendar, starting on the 25th day of Kislew, the ninth month of the Hebrew calendar used for Jewish religious observances. On the Gregorian calendar used by western Christendom, it cuts across November and December.

This year, Hanukkah begins on Dec. 12 following sunset and continues through Dec. 20.

Hanukkah, to be clear, is not the Jewish equivalent of Christmas. However, its proximity to Christmas on the calendar has given Hanukkah a more prominent place in popular culture over the years. “There’s without a doubt a proximity-to-Christmas spillover effect,” said Blades.

This said, Hanukkah – like Christmas with its roots in ancient Roman and Celtic pagan traditions – offers an opportunity to shine a bright celebratory light during the darkest part of the year.

Starting on the first night, a servant candle is used to light the first candle of the hanukkiah. On the second, two candles are lit, on the third day, three candles, and so on.

“Lighting one candle each night is an expression of each soul to do something good in repairing the world,” said Stefanic. “Each one little light, each one small “Mitzvah” (in Hebrew a good deed that connects us with the divine) will create a bigger light eventually and will repair the world.”

Hanukkah also has its own culinary traditions. Larry Gontovnick, president of the Jewish Community Centre on Shelbourne Street, said latkes, deep-fried potato pancakes, are a traditional Hanukkah food, and as in years past, the centre’s deli is offering latkes through December.

Ultimately, anything fried in oil can be served, said Blades, as the oil symbolizes the miracle of Hanukkah, said Blades.

While latkes have been a staple of Hanukkah traditions since time immemorial, the history behind another Hanukkah staple – jelly doughnuts – is less clear.

“I don’t think they had jelly doughnuts thousands of years ago,” said Gontovnick, tongue-in-cheek. In all seriousness, Gontovnick believes the tradition started among Jews of eastern Europe. Stefanic, for her part, prepares them from scratch each year, sending them out as gifts.

In fact, it has also become a tradition to give Hanukkah gifts. “Two generations ago, we probably wouldn’t have,” said Blades.

But if Hanukkah might have evolved over the years, it remains a common cause of celebration across the Jewish community, and a reminder of bonds escaped.

Just Posted

Rachel Rivera (left) and Claire Ouchi are a dynamic art duo known as the WKNDRS. The two painted the new road mural at Uptown. (Megan Atkins-Baker/News Staff)
Artistic mural at Uptown brings creativity, fun to summer shoppers in Saanich

Road installation the largest of its kind in Greater Victoria

Mieran Loira, who works at Moxie’s restaurant on Yates Street, was named a winner in the BC Restaurant and Foodservices Association’s #StandUpForService campaign. (Courtesy Town Hall Brands)
Victoria Moxies server can’t hide her smile, earns provincial kudos for pandemic work

Personality, charisma shine despite masks, coronavirus challenges

The price of gas is way up in many parts of Greater Victoria after a Monday afternoon surge sent it to 162.9 cents per litre. (Black Press Media file photo)
Gas prices surge to 162.9 cents a litre at some Greater Victoria stations

Prices jumped up more than 10 cents Monday afternoon

Swanwick Ranch in Metchosin, featuring an award-winning home on 67 acres of property overlooking the ocean, recently sold for a record-setting, yet undisclosed amount. (Sotheby’s International Realty Canada photo)
Sale of oceanfront property in Metchosin yields new record for Greater Victoria

Listed at $14.1 million, Swanwick Ranch sold to an undisclosed buyer

Research into the city of Victoria’s economic recovery through the pandemic shows things to be moving in the right direction. (Photo courtesy City of Victoria)
Data shows Victoria experiencing gradual economic recovery

Statistics for early 2021 show promising returns as Victoria 3.0 begins to take hold

The border crossing into the United States is seen during the COVID-19 pandemic in Lacolle, Que. on February 12, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson
VIDEO: Border quarantine to soon lift for fully vaccinated Canadians

Eligible travellers must still take multiple COVID-19 tests

Val Litwin is the latest candidate to declare his bid for the B.C. Liberal leadership. (Litwin campaign video)
Political newcomer joins contest for B.C. Liberal leadership

Val Litwin a former B.C. Chamber of Commerce CEO

Golden Ears Mountains, captured in May 2021. (Black Press Media files)
2nd year of day passes required for entry into 5 provincial parks launches in B.C.

Pilot program seeks to protect the environment by addressing visitor surges amid the COVID-19 pandemic

Lincoln Mckoen. (YouTube)
Anglican bishop of the central Interior resigns over sexual misconduct allegations

Lincoln Mckoen was elected as a bishop of the Territory of the People region last year

The former Kamloops Indian Residential School on the Tk’emlups te Secwépemc reserve. (Allen Douglas/Kamloops This Week)
Tk’emlups preparing for archaeological work at B.C. residential school site where remains found

The 215 graves are, to the band’s knowledge, undocumented deaths for which it is still collecting records

Fans watch the warm-up before Game 6 between the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Montreal Canadiens in NHL playoff hockey action Saturday, May 29, 2021 in Montreal. Quebec’s easing of COVID-19 restrictions will allow 2,500 fans to attend the game for the first time in fourteen months. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Two-thirds of Canadians say governments shouldn’t lift all COVID-19 restrictions

Poll reports Canadians who gained pandemic weight say they have gained 16 pounds on average

Paul Bernardo is shown in this courtroom sketch during Ontario court proceedings via video link in Napanee, Ont., on October 5, 2018. Teen killer and serial rapist Paul Bernardo is set for a parole hearing today. The designated dangerous offender, has been eligible for full parole for more than three years. Bernardo’s horrific crimes in the 1980s and early 1990s include for kidnapping, torturing and killing Kristen French and Leslie Mahaffy near St. Catharines, Ont. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Greg Banning
Killer rapist Paul Bernardo faces parole hearing today; victim families opposed

Designated dangerous offender has been eligible for full parole for more than three years.

People look over the damage after a tornado touched down in Mascouche, Que., north of Montreal, Monday, June 21, 2021. Dozens of homes were damaged and one death has been confirmed. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
One dead and extensive damage as tornado hits Mascouche, Que., north of Montreal

Damage reported in several parts of the city, and emergency teams dispatched to sectors hardest hit

Chilliwack secondary school’s principal is apologizing after a quote equating graduation with the end of slavery in the U.S. was included in the 2020-2021 yearbook. (Screenshot from submitted SnapChat)
B.C. student’s yearbook quote equates grad to end of slavery; principal cites editing error

Black former student ‘disgusted’ as CSS principal apologizes for what is called an editing error

Most Read