Friday, 26 November 2021

The miracle of light in
the depths of darkness

Hanukkah in the Ghetto in Venice, an illustration by Michal Maron in Riccardo Calimani’s ‘500 years of the Venetian Ghetto’

Patrick Comerford

The first night of Hanukkah is on Sunday evening (28 November) 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 will be singing songs, playing the dreidel, eating latkes and doughnuts, and lighting the first Hanukkah candle as the sun goes down.

On this Friday evening, as Hanukkah approaches, I am watching the Winter Lecture organised by the Cork Jewish Community in which David Goldberg speaks about his family's journey from Lithuania to Ireland.

When this was shown recently by the Cork Jewish Community, it was an incredibly successful event, with over 60 people in attendance, from countries including Australia, South Africa, Russia and the US. We have recorded the session, and it is now available on our YouTube account and can be viewed HERE.

There are beautiful, joyful illustrations of Hannukah by the artist Michal Maron in two books I bought earlier this month 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.

The ScalaMata Gallery, 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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