Sacha Burgess, 7, said her favorite part is playing dreidel, a centuries-old game played by spinning a four-sided top, while her 5-year-old brother, Wolfgang, can’t wait to get his hands on all those chocolate coins, or gelt, that children receive during the holiday.
Hanukkah is about all those things, Gould said, but enjoyment of the eight-day Festival of Lights for her goes much deeper.
“To me, it actually honors my father. He was a Holocaust survivor, and I feel a duty to honor him. I want them to have a connection to that heritage,” she said.
Gould is second vice president at Temple B’nai Abraham, a Reform synagogue on Gulf Road in Elyria, and for the past four years has been taking her family to the Agudath B’nai Israel Synagogue in Lorain, where the two congregations have combined to celebrate Hanukkah when one of the days falls on the holy Sabbath, which begins at sundown Friday for Jews.
Following a half-hour prayer service, led by the Lorain congregation’s Cantor David Wolinsky and Elyria Rabbi Lauren Werber, the nearly 60 who attended gathered into a party room inside the Meister Road temple to enjoy the traditional fried foods of latkes, or potato pancakes, and doughnuts, as well as each other’s company.
“For a lot of these people, their kids are gone, and they have no place to go,” said Wolinsky, who has led the ABI Synagogue for the last five years. “It gives them a place to come together and celebrate.”
Hanukkah is traditionally celebrated at home with family and starts with the lighting of a nine-branched menorah, with the middle candle, known as the shamash, used to light the other eight. The number of candles lit coincides with what day of Hanukkah it is, so one is lit the first day, two the next, and so on.
The lighting celebrates the rededication of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem following the successful revolt against forces from the Seleucid Empire of Syria, which outlawed Judaism in the second century BC.
There was only enough oil to light the menorah, which was meant to cleanse the temple after it was desecrated by the enemy, for one day, but the oil lasted for eight days.
Fried foods are also eaten during this time because the oil they are cooked in represents the oil at the temple. Children also receive gifts during Hanukkah, typically one on each night, although this is a relatively new tradition that was born out of adults giving children gelt when they answered questions about the holiday’s meaning correctly.