The Umpqua Valley Havurah held its annual Hanukkah party at the Douglas County Library Thursday. A festive group partook of customary food and menorah lighting, while celebrating Jewish culture and tradition.
Beginning on the 25th day of the month of Kislev on the Jewish calendar (lunar based), the eight nights of Hanukkah this year coincided with Christmas on the Gregorian calendar (solar based). The first light of Hanukkah began on the night of Dec. 24 and will end on Jan. 1 at dark.
“It’s a cultural holiday where Jews all over the world are lighting Hanukkah candles, so we connect with them,” said Umpqua Valley Havurah secretary Alixe Dancer.
A havurah is a Jewish fellowship, which comes from the Hebrew word “havur” meaning friend. The group hosted a vegetarian potluck with traditional potato pancake latkes served with sour cream and applesauce. In Douglas County, about 40 families participate in the havurah that began in 1988.
“Hanukkah celebrates freedom of religion,” Dancer said.
Although almost every Jewish person in the room knew the history behind the eight days of Hanukkah, havurah group members still shared the story with about 30 people who attended the party. Some guests were not Jewish.
The history of Hanukkah, which means to dedicate in Hebrew, dates back to about 165 B.C. It commemorates the rededication of the Temple at Jerusalem by Judas Maccabaeus who led the army that took the temple back from the Seleucid Empire.
The miracle of Hanukkah is that Jewish people only had enough oil to burn a lamp for one night during the rededication ceremony, which instead lasted eight nights, hence the eight days of Hanukkah.
Today the celebration is characterized by the burning of the menorah that holds eight candles plus a shammus or helper candle. The first candle lit each day is the shammus candle that lights the other candles, one for each of the eight days until all eight candles are lit at the end of the eight days.
Havurah member John Schroeder from Roseburg enjoyed this event because “it’s a wonderful chance for Jews to get together and do something of their own.” Schroeder served as the havurah’s president in the past.
The party shared with the singing of Jewish and contemporary folk songs by artists such as Peter, Paul and Mary and Leonard Cohen. Guests were given lyrics to read so they could sing along while two havurah members played the guitar and drum.
Havurah member Jerry Harris, who played the guitar, was appreciative of this event. He remembered historical times experienced by his family when Jewish people had to hide their Judaism because of antisemitism in the past.
“We are fortunate that we don’t have to hide our being Jewish,” Harris said. “We are here in a public event that is open to the entire community.”
That evening, menorahs were also lit at each table that burned throughout the entire event. During Hanukkah, menorah candles are lit each evening with candles burning out that same evening. One candle is added daily until the eighth and final night.
After sharing in a traditional dinner of latkes and lighting menorahs, the guests continued singing traditional songs and conversed with one another.
KatSue Grant, a non-Jewish guest from Roseburg, attended the event for the first time because “I always wanted to experience a Hanukkah celebration to find out what it’s all about.”
Grant came an hour early and helped decorate the room and worked at the craft table where she made decorations and learned about Jewish games such as the dreidle game. This game uses a four-sided spinner toy marked with Yiddish letters that people gambled with by using tokens such as walnuts.
“I’m having a great time,” Grant said.
For more information, visit the Umpqua Valley Havurah online at umpquavalleyhavurah.org or call 541-677-0575.