Kicking off the e-holiday season is e-Hanukkah — the Jewish celebration of miracles that brings light to the darkest time of the year.
Because Hanukkah is based on a lunar calendar, it falls at different times each year. This year it begins at sundown on Thursday and lasts for eight days, until sundown Dec. 18.
While not a high holiday of Judaism — it has been popularized in Western cultures because its timing is so close to Christmas — it is nevertheless enthusiastically observed by Jewish families.
“It’s the story of the resilience of the Jewish people,” said Josh Kleyman, lay rabbi for the Jackson Hole Jewish Community.
Hanukkah is Hebrew for “rededication,” and the holiday celebrates the rededication of a Jewish temple in Jerusalem. Around the middle of the second century B.C. a Greek-Syrian king came to rule Judea. Antiochus IV prohibited his Jewish subjects to practice their religion, demanding instead that they worship the Greek gods. His soldiers slaughtered thousands Jews, and he had erected in their sacred Second Temple an altar to Zeus and sacrificed pigs there — an abomination according to Judaism.
Under the leadership of a priest named Mattathias and his sons the Jews rebelled. Mattathias died in 166 BC, but his son Judah — known as Judah Maccabee, or Judah “The Hammer” — carried on and within just a couple of years drove the Syrians out of Jerusalem. When they went to reclaim their temple through the ritual lighting of the menorah — a lamp or candelabra that was meant to keep burning continuously for eight days — they found they had only enough oil for one night. Miraculously, however, the oil lasted eight days, which translating to the holiday celebrated today — Hanukkah, also known as the “Festival of Lights.”
“It’s the darkest time of the year,” Kleyman said of the time when Hanukkah is observed. “And in this darkest time of the year, what do we do? We light candles and bring light into the world.”
Jews traditionally gather to light the menorah, enjoy a shared feast, make special foods and often give small gifts to their children.
“Typically, we have a lot of events,” said Rabbi Zalman Mendelsohn of the Chabad Jewish Center of Wyoming. “But not this year.”
As with so many traditions, Hanukkah festivities have been curtailed by the coronavirus pandemic, so the Chabad Center’s more public observance will be limited to Mendelsohn leading the lighting of the Town Square menorah at 6 p.m. Dec. 16 — with face masks and social distancing.
Mendelsohn also will travel to Laramie to light a menorah there at 5 p.m. Sunday, then go on to Cheyenne for a lighting on the steps of the State Capitol starting at 1:15 p.m. Monday. Those events will be streamed online.
The Jackson Hole Jewish Community traditionally hosts a Hanukkah dinner, but this year it will get together via Zoom on Saturday.
Jackson Hole Jewish Community has been delivering gift bags to kids this season, with a menorah, a dreidel game, gelt (traditional chocolate gold coins) and seasonal snacks of potato latkes and sufganiyot, a kind of jelly donut. Foods fried in oil are customary at Hanukkah because it celebrates the miracle of oil.
During the group’s Zoom celebration from 6-8 p.m. Saturday, kids will open their gift bags, show their Hanukkah decorations and see a latke-making demonstration from a guest chef. They will also sing songs led by Kantor Judd Grossman.
Everyone is welcome to join the virtual party — email firstname.lastname@example.org for registration.
People can also buy custom-made Mountain Chai Hanukkah Gelt created by chocolatier Oscar Ortega at Atelier Ortega on Scott Lane.
“While we can not physically be together we can be together in spirit,” Kleyman said. “We want to be back together when conditions allow.” ￼