Canton resident shares history of Hannukah
Wednesday, December 26, 2012 - 1:22 pm

To the Editor

As a Jew who is open and joyful about my religion, non-Jewish people who know me—clients, friends, neighbors, colleagues—feel comfortable asking me about our holidays and how we celebrate them. Many non-Jews are often under the misapprehension that Hannukah is somehow related to Christmas.

I’ve heard it said, erroneously, that Hannuakh is the “Jewish Christmas.” Hannukah and Christmas have three insignificant things in common--they are celebrated around the same time of year, gifts are exchanged and lights are involved.

However, unlike Christmas, Hannukah is a minor holiday and not even a religious one at that. Hannukah is the commemoration of a military victory of the Jews over the Syrian Greeks around 170 BC. It really has nothing to do with gift-giving either. We began exchanging gifts because it seemed like the thing to do and it kept our kids from having “Christmas envy.”

The gifts are small, though, and not the focus of the holiday. On each of the eight nights of Hannukah we light candles in a menorah until all eight candles are lit.

The story goes that when the Jews reclaimed their destroyed Temple, there was enough oil in a lamp to burn for only one day, but miraculously it burned for eight.

Of course, being Jews, we eat a lot on Hannukah and it is traditional to have food fried in oil, like potato latkes (pancakes) and doughnuts. Anybody who has been to the food festival at Congregation Beth El in Potsdam, which was held just a couple of weeks ago, can attest to the yumminess of a freshly fried latke.  But, for all the misinformation, I have never felt any sense of anti-Semitism in the North Country and have never confused lack of knowledge for hatred.

Unless you’ve lived it, how could you know? So, now you do!

Jackie Schwartz, Canton