Celebrating December’s other holiday

Hanukkah celebrates light of the eternal flame

Ira Rose

Three-year-old Ira Rose already knows the candle in the middle is the “helper candle”.

The Saanich youngster is slightly put off by the ceremonial candelabra that features a “helper candle” to the far left and raised from the other eight, instead of in the middle like most of the hanukkiah in Janna Bleviss’ collection.

The Oak Bay woman’s array includes her childhood hanukkiah and one she got for her 50th birthday. The one Ira noticed, for example, spells out Hanukkah in Hebrew.

“If you have a Christmas tree, you collect different ornaments as the years go by. This is the same,” says Janna.

The seven-candled menorah is used all year for Jewish worship and ceremony. At Hanukkah there are nine candles, the eight marking the miracle and a ninth to light them with.

Hanukkah commemorates the 165 BC victory of the Maccabees, a Jewish rebel army, over the Syrians and the subsequent rededication of the holy temple in Jerusalem. The Maccabees found enough consecrated oil in the temple to light its eternal flame for one day. The lamp burned for eight.

Hanukkah, which started Tuesday and ends Dec. 24, celebrates that rededication of the temple.

“We celebrate that. We don’t celebrate the war, we celebrate the light,” Janna says. “There’s always a light on in the temple, even today in the synagogue there’s always a light on.”

The first night includes an extra prayer, a blessing used for something new, it’s also said at the start of other celebrations.

“It’s just a happy celebration,” says Morris Bleviss. “Others are related to the seasons … or contemplative.”

Each night after that first includes two prayers. The candles are left to burn down each night, with the hanukkiah placed in a window to share the celebration, Morris says.

“A lot of families do get a present every night,” adds Katy Rose, Ira’s mother. It’s something they may broach in their family, as Ira is at an age where he notices the difference between other celebrations taking place in the city and among his peers.

Those eight evenings also tend to include a great spread featuring traditional foods such as the fried potato cakes called latke, which can also vary from household to household.

“Every family has their own favourite recipe,” Katy says, pumping Janna for more information about her recipe.

“I hand grate [the potatoes] so it’s really a labour of love,” Janna replies with a smile. Plus there’s the high egg-to-potato ratio.

The two women look on as Ira and Morris light the candles in demonstration, using the “helper candle”.

“There’s nothing at the synagogue around this, it’s a happy home holiday,” says Janna. “This is probably the newest Jewish holiday. It’s not in the Bible … It’s a family holiday. The kids are the focus.”

There, points out Katy, is a bit of irony.

“It’s the holiday everybody knows about,” she says. “It is good for the Jewish kids to have something of their own, because Christmas is so all-encompassing.”