Hanukkah celebrates Jewish ancestry

Merry Cooper

Jewish students on the ISU campus have not yet planned a specific event for Hanukkah, but the Festival of Lights will still be celebrated in Ames and across the world.

Hanukkah begins Dec. 10.

“Usually, if it falls during the school year, we try to get together on the first night,” said Babak Cohanim, member of the ISU Hillel Club. “One year, we all got together and baked Hanukkah cookies.”

Hanukkah is the Jewish holiday celebrating the movement led by Judas Maccabees in the first century BC, said Sally Lapan, membership chairwoman and retired school director for the Ames Jewish Congregation.

This movement freed the Jews from the Asirian ruler, Antiochus, who forbade them from practicing their religion, she said.

“Hanukkah means dedication,” Lapan said. “The temple had been desecrated, and the men went to clean up the temple and dedicate it to God.”

One of the main traditions that is carried out today is the lighting of the menorah, she said. There is a special menorah for Hanukkah, called the Hanukkiah, which has eight branches plus a center candle, called a shamash.

“On the first day you light the shamash first, and then the first candle,” she said.

“On the second day, you light the shamash and use it to light the first and second candle, and so on until on the eighth day all eight candles have been lit.”

Lapan said the tradition of lighting candles originates from the Jews cleaning out the temple and preparing it for dedication.

“Legend has it that there was a huge menorah in the temple, and when the men were cleaning up the temple, they wanted to light it, but they only could find one little jar of the sacred oil, enough for one day,” Lapan said. “Miraculously, the oil lasted for eight days.”

Another Hanukkah tradition is to eat foods made with oil, Lapan said.

“Eastern European Jews eat fried potato pancakes called latkes,” she said.

“Mediterranean Jews eat jelly-filled doughnuts called sufganyog. These foods are also in remembrance of the oil used to light the menorah.”

Because of its proximity to Christmas, Lapan said, it’s a tradition for Jewish parents to give gifts to their children each day of Hanukkah in the United States.

The children also play the dreidel game, she said, which is a tradition stemming from Eastern European Jews.

“The dreidel has four sides, and little kids play with some sort of candy,” said Cohanim, senior in aerospace engineering. “Everyone puts a piece of candy in the middle, and when you spin the dreidel one of four things can happen – you get all the candy in the pot, you get half the candy, you get none or you have to put in half of what you have.”

Lapan said the Ames Jewish Congregation traditionally has a Hanukkah party one weekend night during the week of festivities, although a date for this year’s party has not yet been set.

“The men all get together beforehand and make the latkes,” she said. “Then everyone comes and we eat them and cold cuts.”