Festival of Lights celebrates hope and freedom

The Spellman family celebrate Chanukah by lighting one or two menorahs. Then five or six by the end of the eight days.

Chanukah, the “Festival of Lights,” is an eight-day Jewish celebration. Families gather at home to light the menorah in remembrance of the miracles God bestowed upon their people.

Chanukah means “re-dedication,” said Rabbi Craig Mayers of Temple Beth Shalom, a conservative synagogue and the oldest in Brevard County.

The holiday is related to two miracles, he said.

“When the Seleucids (of Syria) conquered the land (Judea, or Israel), they outlawed the practice of Judaism,” Rabbi Mayers said. “They wanted us to convert to Greek gods, and made our temple (Second Temple of Jerusalem) into a temple

of Zeus.”

Led by Judah Maccabee, “a band of ragtag, untrained farmers kicked out the world’s most powerful army. The few prevailed over the many,” he said.

That was the first miracle.

“We were able to clean the temple up and relight the lamp. This happened in 163 BCE to 165 BCE, the rededication of the temple,” he said.

There was not enough oil to keep the lamp burning inside the temple. However, the lamp continued to burn for eight days.

“We see God’s hand in those events. The hope for eight days,” Rabbi Mayers said of the second miracle.

“Chanukah has a message of religious freedom,” said Kayla Spellman, “which I think resonates with Jews all over the world, because religious persecution is such a part of the Jewish history.”

Kayla Spellman and her husband, Eric, who have four children, have been members of Temple Beth Shalom for 15 years.

The family celebrates by cooking foods fried in oil, such as potato pancakes, or latkes. They also enjoy eating raspberry-filled doughnuts and chocolate coins.

The family also plays a game with a “dreidel,” a four-sided spinning top, each side labeled with a Hebrew letter that serves as an acronym for the saying, “A great miracle happened here.”

“We like to spin as many dreidels as we can because they’re fun and pretty, and everyone loves spinning tops,” Kayla Spellman said.

The family begins celebrating the festival by lighting one or two menorahs and then five or six by the end of the eight days.

“The more lights, the more blessings. We end up lighting the whole kitchen and going through a lot of candles,” she said.

Of the holiday, Rabbi Mayers remarked: “We should never lose hope. It’s a miracle of lights. For eight days, the oil lasted and the light burned.”