Wednesday, 1 December 2010

For Jews, Hanukkah a time of 'rededication'

REHOBOTH BEACH -- Although its one of the lesser holidays on the Hebrew calendar, Hanukkah has increased in prominence both from within and outside the Jewish faith.

The holiday, which begins at sundown Dec. 1 and lasts through Dec. 9, commemorates the rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem, which was taken back from the Syrians and purified by lamplight over the course of eight days.

Beth Cohen, of the Seaside Jewish Community in Rehoboth Beach, said the holiday has been elevated primarily because of its proximity to Christmas.

"Perhaps it gives us an opportunity to think about what it means to rededicate yourself to something; to think about things not otherwise (thought) about," she said.

She said the religious school holds a Hanukkah service each year with a play, songs and some form of a retelling of the story.

"The practice in homes is usually for the family to light the candles, one for each of the eight nights," she said. "That's tradition, but it's also become a gift-giving holiday, which is obviously not part of the history."

Rabbi Arnold Bienstock, of the Beth Israel Congregation in Salisbury, said it was almost inevitable that Hanukkah would embrace some of the trappings of consumer culture.

The menorahs that hold the nine Hanukkah candles -- one is used to light the others -- can be found in various colors, shapes and styles, he said. They come shaped like cats, dogs and even footballs.

"There have always been issues as to what extent Jews should have to culturally absorb or not absorb from the background of the world," he said.

That issue speaks directly to the very origins of the holiday, which celebrates the Jews' cultural and religious liberation from the Greeks during the 2nd century B.C. Maccabean Revolt, Beinstock said.

Now, just as then, he said Jews represent a religious minority.

"Jews are a drop of a drop of a drop in the Delmarva region," he said, noting that much of the population is concentrated in urban centers, such as Washington, D.C.

Consumerism and materialism has affected the Jewish holidays, as they have everything else, said Beinstock, who himself exchanges gifts, such as a giraffe-shaped menorah, with his four daughters.

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