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Lighting celebrates Hanukkah

BY ADAM SALAZAR | DECEMBER 15, 2009 7:30 AM

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While the holiday season can be aggressive, it can be hard to imagine that some minority groups might be left out of the festivities.

Fortunately for students such as Ally Milch, a popular tradition will allow to her to celebrate her Jewish heritage.

Milch, along with others in the local Jewish community, plan to attend the eighth-annual Menorah Lighting on the Pedestrian Mall at 5:30 p.m. today near Herteen and Stocker Jewelers, 101 S. Dubuque St. The Lubavitach of Iowa City, 420 E. Jefferson St., an Orthodox Jewish center headed by Rabbi Avremel Blesofsky, will host the event.

The lighting is in commemoration of the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah, which began Dec. 11 at sunset and will last until sunset on Saturday. The event celebrates the survival and perseverance of Judaism and its followers in the face of coercion.

“[Hanukkah is] a fight against assimilation,” said Gerald Sorokin, a rabbi and the executive director of the Hillel Foundation. Because Hanukkah is not found in the Torah, its significance is sometimes overshadowed by other religious holidays on the Jewish calendar, he said, but its symbolism is important in terms of cultural patrimony.

“It’s supposed to be a statement about Jewish identity and that we’re different,” Sorokin said.
Definitions aside, the practices of Hanukkah vary by family and are often family-oriented.

Traditions include lighting a candle for each day accompanied by prayers and dining on traditional Hanukkah foods such a latkes and jelly doughnuts cooked in oil.

UI senior Rachel Kodner said some of her family’s Hanukkah traditions emulate those of Christmas and that the celebration has become more commercial because of its popularity.

“It’s become a much bigger deal because of the time of year,” she said. The resident of Evanston, Ill., a city with a significant Jewish population, also said the Festival of Lights not only allows her the opportunity to be with her family, and the holiday is as heavily advertised as Christmas in her hometown.

“[Businesses] make sure if there’s a Christmas tree, there’s a menorah,” she said.

Kodner, a Reform Jew, said she has never been to a public menorah lighting, because Hanukkah observances are mostly a private matter. In contrast, Milch, a Conservative believer, said her family sets a 7-foot menorah on their lawn and other decorations inside her home.

“The reason that we [have decorations in] public is because we don’t have to hide,” the UI junior from Bettendorf said.

But even with such public displays of Juadism, Blesofsky still believes that Jewish culture could be more visible. He is an active proponent of Chabad, an educational organization designed to increase Jewish people’s knowledge, enthusiasm and commitment in their faith. He sees the Menorah Lighting as filling a void that is needed for the local community.

“The public menorah display offers a level of accessibility that has never existed,” Blesofsky wrote in an e-mail. “And people just want to be connected to their heritage.”


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