Jewish residents to celebrate festival of lights

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— Just as the Thanksgiving leftovers begin to disappear, another holiday starts today.

This evening will kick off the eight-day Hanukkah celebration known as the festival of lights. Hanukkah celebrates the ancient reclaiming of a Jerusalem temple and the miracle that kept the menorah, a kind of candlestick with nine branches, burning for eight days on one small jar of oil.

The eight days of Hanukkah are celebrated by singing, eating, playing games and giving gifts. Jewish tradition has gifts being given during each night of the holiday.

On the last day of Hanukkah, Steamboat's Jewish community group Har Mishpachat, or Mountain Family, will hold a celebration party and potluck dinner at Olympian Hall. Har Mishpachat member Stacey Kramer expects more than 100 people to attend the celebration, which will have menorah lightings, children's games, crafts and a gift exchange.

"It is a wonderful time for children especially," Kramer said. "The group celebration really brings people together and helps them celebrate even if they are not here with their family."

Har Michpachat welcomed its first part-time rabbi during the Jewish New Year this fall. But Rabbi Joe Goldman will not be conducting a service during the Hanukkah holiday. A small Sabbath service with the lighting of the menorah and prayers will still be held at the Hanukkah celebration party next Friday.

While Hanukkah is one of the more joyous celebrations in the Jewish calendar, it is not considered the most important religious holiday.

"The group decided they wanted to have (Goldman) attend some of the holidays, but not all the holidays," Kramer said. "The High Holy Days, Yom Kippur, are the most important holidays for him to provide leadership."

Kramer said on Dec. 27, Goldman will be traveling from Denver to hold a Sabbath service in Steamboat Springs. He also will hold other Sabbath services throughout the year.

Hanukkah originated more than 2,000 years ago and began when Jews worshiped in the Jerusalem temple during the time the land was ruled by Syrian-Greeks.

King Antiochus forced the Jews in the area to give up many of their practices, such as studying the Torah and worshipping in their temple. Judas, a renowned warrior, and his army known as the Maccabees, or hammers, fought Antiochus' armies and defeated them against great odds.

The Jews reclaimed the temple in Jerusalem, but it had been defiled by Antiochus. In the ruined temple, the Jews could find only one small jar of oil, enough to light the menorah for one day.

But then a miracle occurred. Despite the lack of oil, the menorah continued to burn for eight days.

Goldman said the lasting light is a modern metaphor to celebrate hope and to create a better world.

"When we add light, we can see the dark places and illuminate them," he said.

For Kramer, the festival of lights is a time to marvel at both ancient and modern miracles. She admits she was not always inspired by the menorah miracle, until she thought about how it applies to her life 2,000 years later.

"It is a metaphor for improving the world," Kramer said. "It makes it something more of a modern-day miracle."

? To reach Christine Metz call 871-4229

or e-mail cmetz@steamboatpilot.com

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