16 December 2022

Celebrating the light that
sustains and sanctifies us
through times of darkness

A Hanukkiah or Hanukkah Menorah in Milton Keynes and District Reform Synagogue (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Patrick Comerford

The first night of Hanukkah is on Sunday evening (18 December) and will be marked in synagogues and homes around the world with the lighting of the first candle on the hanukkiah or Hanukkah Menorah late on Sunday afternoon.

Jewish families and communities everywhere will be singing songs, playing the dreidel, eating latkes and doughnuts, and lighting the first Hanukkah candle as the sun goes down.

Some synagogues, including the shul in Milton Keynes, have organised Hanukkah parties on Sunday afternoon – aware, though, they there may be competition for attention and entertainment from the World Cup final at the same time.

Bevis Marks Synagogue in London is holding its annual ‘Grand Hanukkah Candlelit Service’ on Sunday afternoon (18 December).

Cork Jewish Community has organised a Hanukkah party on Sunday evening, with games, doughnuts and latkes. Then on Wednesday (21 December), on the fourth night of the Festival, from 4:30 to 5:30, Cork Jewish Community and Cork City Council are lighting Hanukkah candles in Cork City Hall with the Lord Mayor, Deirdre Forde. On Sunday 25 December, in conjunction with the Evening Echo, the final lamp is being lit in Shalom Park, Cork.

In New York, Met Council has organised a special Chanukah event in Brooklyn on Sunday with Senator Kirsten Gillibrand to benefit home-bound Holocaust survivors. The New York City area is home to tens of thousands of people who survived the Holocaust, some of whom face immense challenges and are often isolated. The Holocaust Survivor Programme provides over 3,900 low-income Holocaust survivors with financial assistance, social programmes, case management and food.

Four figures in Murano glass in a shopfront in the Ghetto in Venice … the figure on the left is celebrating Hanukkah with a Hanukkiah or Hanukkah Menorah (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

On this Friday evening, as Hanukkah approaches, I am thinking once again of the beautiful, joyful illustrations of Hannukah by the artist Michal Maron in two books I bought a year ago in the ScalaMata Gallery in the Ghetto in Venice, Riccardo Calimani’s 500 years of the Venetian Ghetto and Alon Baker’s The Jewish Festivals and Synagogues around the World.

When I visited it, the ScalaMata Gallery was filled with colourful and captivating paintings, books, cards and bookmarks presenting 500 years of the history and scenes of daily life of the Venetian Ghetto. The displays and exhibitions include illustrated Torah scrolls and paintings by the artist Michal Meron, whose paintings accompany these two books.

Alon Baker first published the Jewish Festival book 25 years ago, and when it was translated into English, French, Portuguese, Hebrew, German and Japanese it was welcomed as ‘a little ambassador of Judaism.’

In the new edition, published in English, German, French, Italian and Spanish, the publisher ScalaMata has added illustrations of the Jewish festivals by Michal Maron and also included happy or solemn occasions in some synagogues around the world.

I was surprised that the illustrations included so many historical synagogues I had visited in Europe, among them Kahal Shalom, Rhodes; Dohány Synagogue in Budapest; Bevis Marks Synagogue, London; the Italian Synagogue, Venice; the Oranienburg Synagogue, Berlin; the Old New Synagogue, Prague; the Synagogue of Vienna; Remah Synagogue, Krakow; and the Great Synagogue of Rome.

In his small and delightful, accessible and educational book, Alon Barker says of Chanuccah, the Festival of Lights:

‘Chanuccah is the commemoration of the Maccabean Revolt against the Seleucid Empire in the 2nd century BCE and rededication of the second Temple in Jerusalem after its desecration by Antiochus IV. The holiday also recalls the miracle that occurred: when rededicating the Temple, they only found enough pure olive oil for the Menorah light to last one day. Instead, it burned for eight days, the time needed to make new oil. Chanuccah is celebrated by lighting an additional candle each evening on a nine-branched Menorah for eight days. Other traditions include playing with a dreidel (a spinning top) and eating doughnuts and latkes.’

The prayer included in Michal Maron’s illustration of Hannukah in this book says:

‘Blessed art thou, Lord our God, King of the Universe, who has kept us in light and sustained us to reach this season.

‘Blessed art thou, Lord our God, King of the Universe, who has sanctified us with his commandments and commanded us to kindle the Hanukah light.

‘Blessed art thou, Lord our God, King of the Universe, who has performed miracles for our forefathers in those days at this time.’

May light shine in your life in these dark days of winter, a light that assures you of the love of God.

Shabbat Shalom

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