All about Hanukkah

Abby Fisher

Hillel member clears up misconception about the traditional Jewish holiday

Beth Bloom, freshman integrated language arts major, is a member of Hillel’s freshman advisory board and will be celebrating Hanukkah on Dec. 25 this year. She attends temple in Kent every week and reads regularly from her Jewish prayer book.

Credit: Steve Schirra

On Dec. 25, when many Kent State students will be opening their Christmas presents, Beth Bloom will be lighting her menorah.

The freshman integrated language arts major has been a member of Hillel at Kent State since the beginning of the semester. As a member of the freshman advisory board, Bloom has helped plan several events, including a Hanukkah party.

Bloom, who attended Hebrew school in her hometown of Cincinnati for nine years when she was younger, said non-Jews make Hanukkah into a much bigger holiday.

Sophomore broadcasting major Elexcia Robinson agreed.

“I learned about Hanukkah in the sense that it was a pretty big deal,” she said.

Robinson first heard about Hanukkah when she sang in her middle school’s chorus.

“My choir teacher in sixth grade was Jewish,” she said. “We would sing Hanukkah songs, and our teacher would give us a little background information on Hanukkah.”

Robinson remembered learning that Jews exchanged gifts during Hanukkah, giving it a similar connection to Christmas.

“I always thought Hanukkah was the holiday Jews have in December instead of Christmas,” she said.

Bloom said many Christians are confused about Hanukkah in that sense.

“It’s a common misconception that Hanukkah is a big Jewish holiday,” she said. “The most important ones are Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.”

Hanukkah, which literally means “rededication,” falls in the Jewish month Kislev, which is usually in December.

Bloom explains that the Hanukkah celebration – which starts Dec. 25 and lasts until Jan. 2 this year – is rooted deep in ancient history. The story begins when Mattathias, a Jewish high priest, was forced to worship Greek deities and idols and forbidden to study the Torah.

“The Jews only believe in one God,” Bloom said. “The Greeks told Mattathias the Jews could not practice their religion, and that’s when the Jews went into hiding.”

Mattathias died while hiding in the Judean mountains. His son, Maccabee, headed a growing Jewish army that planned an open rebellion against the Greeks. The army stormed Jerusalem and retook the city.

“When they found the temple in ruins, the Jews decided to light the menorah,” Bloom said. “They only found oil to last them one day, but miraculously it lasted eight.”

To celebrate, Bloom says many people play with dreidels and eat gelt, or chocolate gold coins.

“My mother still buys dreidels every year for my brother and me,” she said.

However, like Christmas, Bloom says Hanukkah has been widely commercialized in the modern world.

“I’ve seen people get cars and computers,” she said. “A lot of people go to Israel for Hanukkah, too.”

Bloom traveled to Israel herself for eight weeks when she was in high school.

“It helped me become more spiritual,” she said. “I saw people walking down the streets with their heads covered.”

Bloom added that in America, it is unusual to see so much tradition in Jewish customs.

“That’s pretty rare,” she said.

Bloom attends temple every week in Kent, where the services are conducted in English.

“Services here are pretty contemporary,” she said. “At my synagogue at home, everything’s in Hebrew.”

In high school, when her friends would have Christmas gift exchanges, Bloom recalls that she was never left out.

“They would always give me a ‘Hanukkah’ gift,” she said. “They were all very nice and understanding about the fact that I was Jewish.”

However, Bloom disagrees with Jews who celebrate both Christmas and Hanukkah.

“I don’t understand the people who tell me that they are half Jewish and half Christian,” she said. “You’re either a Christian or a Jew.”

Bloom says that she has seen and heard of Jews who decorate with “Hanukkah bushes” or winter trees.

“I think the bush idea is a little crazy,” she said. “The most decorating that we do at home is just sticking the menorah in the window.”

When Bloom travels home for the semester break, she will celebrate Hanukkah with her family by attending temple and lighting candles for eight days.

Contact features correspondent Abby Fisher at [email protected].