Sixth night of Hanukkah celebrated tonight

Photo by John Bryant
Elaine Pectol lights one in celebration of the Jewish holiday of Hannukah, the eight-day festival of light commemorating the rededication of the temple of Jerusalem.
  By Lesley Hughes

star staff

  Although considered a minor holiday in Judaism, Hanukkah is the most recognizable holiday to many non-Jews, mainly because it falls near Christmas. Tonight is the sixth night of the eight-day long holiday.
  Rabbi Brian Nevins-Goldman, of the B'Nai Sholom Congregation in Blountville, said Hanukkah is considered a "minor" holiday in Judaism because it originated in a post-biblical time. The holiday's religious significance is far less than that of Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, and the Passover. The only religious observance is the lighting of the candles. However, the holiday is a favorite especially among children as it occurs near the time of Christmas.
  For one Jewish woman residing in Elizabethton, living in an area with such a small population of Jews doesn't hinder her in her religion. "You do what you need to do," Elaine Pectol said. Pectol said the B'Nai congregation includes about 60 families from the Tri-Cities. Although her husband, Don, is not Jewish, she raised their daughter in Judaism.
  "When my child was little, we would light the candles every night, eat latkes, and give traditional gifts," Pectol said. Her daughter is now grown, married to a Jewish man, and practices kosher Judaism in Boston, Mass. Keeping kosher in the East Tennessee area can be quite difficult since kosher meats have to be ordered from Atlanta, Ga., but Kosher poultry can be found in Asheville, N.C. Raised in Boston until moving to the south in 1973, Pectol said she knows a few families in East Tennessee that keep kosher.
  "Anything you want to do you find a way to do it," she said.
  As for the holiday season, Elaine and Don celebrate both Hanukkah and Christmas in their house.
  Also known as the winter "Celebration of Light," Nevins-Goldman explained the holiday is based on a historical military victory which was "waged and won on behalf of religious freedom." Antiochus IV tried to consolidate control over the land of Israel while forbidding other religions besides the worship of the Greek gods. He also forbade Jews from practicing three main aspects of Judaism: Observing the Sabbath, keeping kosher, and circumcision.
  Despite being far outnumbered, the war was won and the temple of Jerusalem was rededicated, thus the word "Hanukkah" means "dedication." According to Nevins-Goldman, the legend states that at the time of the rededication, only enough oil was available for one day, yet miraculously, it burned for eight days, the time needed to prepare a fresh supply of oil for the menorah.
  In remembrance of this event, Jews commemorate the miracle of the oil, not the military victory, by lighting of the candles. The candles are arranged in a candelabrum called a menorah to hold the nine candles. Each of the eight candles represents a night, plus a shammus at a different height. After reciting three blessings, the first candle is lit by the shammus candle, which is then placed back in its holder. The candles are allowed to burn out on their own after a minimum of half an hour.
  A candle is added each night from right to left. The newest candle is lit first from left to right, and on the eighth night all nine candles are lit.
  To accommodate children, some Jews give gifts during this holiday. Although Nevins-Goldman said there is no tradition to gift giving, the competition of Christmas and non-Jewish friends has spawned some families to give a different gift each night of Hanukkah. Nevins-Goldman said some give gifts, while others provide gifts of kindness or service, but the gift giving varies with each family.
  Pectol gives small gifts each night. She said the eight small gifts will equal about one Christmas present. Her gifts include candy (gelt) wrapped in foil and even a new dreidel for her daughter.
  Playing the dreidel involves using a spinning top to gamble, while also studying the Torah. The four sides of the dreidel are marked with four Hebrew letters: Nun, Gimmel, Heh, and Shin. The letters stand for the phrase, "a great miracle happened there." The point of the game is to play to win all the M&Ms, pennies, or candies. Each person puts in a M&M, a person spins the dreidel. Each Hebrew letter determines how much of the M&M's that you win out of the pot. The game is over when one person wins all the M&Ms.
  Traditionally fried foods are also eaten during the holiday, to mark the significance of the oil. One of the favorite traditional foods for Hanukkah is latkes (potato pancakes pronounced "lot-keys").