Naomi Kirshenblatt is a fifth year Asper School of Business student, on the U of M Bison swim team, and is co-president of the U of M Athletic Council. She considers herself to be conservative Jewish. She chatted with Edgar French, spiritual care coordinator at the University of Manitoba, about the celebration of Hanukkah.
Edgar: For those unfamiliar with this Jewish holiday, could you give us a quick overview on Hanukkah?
Naomi: Hanukkah is the festival of light. The story of the holiday goes that 2,500 years ago there was a Syrian King named Antiochus and he tried to make the Jewish people worship idols. However, worshiping idols is against the Jewish religion. So a small group of Jewish people called the Maccabees rebelled, but at the end of the rebellion when the Jews became free, their temple was destroyed. As they cleaned up the rubble, they found their menorah and they wanted to light it, but they only had enough oil for one night. So they lit the menorah and a miracle happened! The menorah remained lit for 8 days! That is why Hanukkah is eight days long.
An interesting fact is that as many people in North America give gifts for Hanukkah that is somewhat of a misinterpretation of the holiday. We are meant to simply receive small gold coins. However due to the influence of Christmas, Jews celebrating Hanukkah in North American began to exchange gifts during the holiday!
Also a fun part of the holiday is since the menorah stayed lit for 8 days with oil we celebrate by eating sufganiyah (jelly donuts) and latkes (potato pancakes) since they are prepared in oil!
Edgar: How have you and your family celebrated Hanukah, and what do you recall as your fondest memories?
Naomi: Hanukkah is not one of the most religious/holiest holidays for the Jewish people when compared to other biblical stories since it happened more recently. However my family makes the effort to meet together every evening to light the menorah. My mum will always make latkes for us and this is exciting since it is the only time of the year she will actually fry things in our kitchen. Now that I live far from home I try to Skype my family every night to light the menorah with them! As well we get together with all our friends, light the menorah together, share a lot of good food and spend time together.
I was born on the fifth night of Hanukkah and since the Jewish calendar follows the lunar cycle with 13 months in it, the fifth night falls on a different day on the regular calendar. From this I have somehow convinced my family to celebrate my birthday with cake on both my regular birthday and the fifth night of Hanukkah, which is a major win for me!
Edgar: What about the holiday do you personally find meaningful and life-giving?
Naomi: What I find personally meaningful and life giving with this holiday is, like all other holidays, my family makes the holiday time special. We ensure that we all spend time together. Like any other holiday, in any other religion or belief, I enjoy being with my family and sharing an extra special meal with them. It makes me happy to be able to sit own and enjoy their company especially now that I live so far from home!
Edgar: How could folks who are unacquainted with Jewish tradition and would like to learn more about Hanukah do so?
Naomi: People looking to learn more about Hanukkah are welcome to stop by the Hillel room at 149 UMSU University Centre whenever they would like to do so as anyone in there would be happy to share stories and information on the holiday with them! As well, on December 6th at 2pm there will be a menorah lighting in UMSU University Centre main floor that everyone is welcome to attend.
In the city of Winnipeg there are different Hanukkah parties offered at synoguages and the Rady Jewish Community Center that people are invited to attend. This year the first candle is lit at sunset on Sunday, December 2 and Hanukkah ends the evening of Monday, December 10th.