City of light
Rabbi ElizaBeth Beyer
Rabbi Beyer is the rabbi, the spiritual leader, at Temple Beth Or, which has been a Reno synagogue for about three years. For more information about the temple, check out its website, www.jewishreno.com, or call 322-5542.
You’re celebrating Chanukah as we speak (Dec. 20), right?
Yes, Chanukah starts tonight with lighting the first candle. … Jewish holidays start in the evening, typically. Actually, the day starts in the evening. I know it’s kind of a different concept than regular American culture. But, for instance, Shabbat starts in the evening on Friday night and goes through Saturday to Saturday evening.
What does Chanukah mean? What’s its base idea?
“Dedication.” It’s the idea that back in the time of the Maccabees, there was only one cruse [a small jar] of oil. It should have lasted just a day, but the miracle was that it lasted a full eight days so they could actually make more oil.
And as I recall that was for the rededication of the Temple.
What’s it mean in modern times? What are people contemplating when they’re lighting the candles?
We actually put on our Facebook site, “What one word does Chanukah mean to you?” We had a number of different people with different ideas. For some it’s “peace,” for some it’s that dedication, “the light”—we’re in the darkest time of the year, and we’re looking forward to the days getting longer and increasing. And it’s the celebration of freedom, of religious and spiritual freedom and being able to practice our religion.
Is there a reason it coincides with Christmas?
It doesn’t always coincide with Christmas. It’s the Hebrew month, not the Gregorian calendar. So, for instance, last year it was earlier in December. But it tends to be around the time of the solstice so that’s why they sometimes overlap, and this year, they completely overlap. It’s an eight-day holiday that starts tonight and runs through the 28th.
OK. That was kind of leap I made. If it’s around the solstice, Christmas—the day that came to be celebrated—was, I believe, a pagan holiday that was based on the solstice. So that would make sense why they’re generally around each other. … Christmas affects everyone in the American culture. How does Chanukah relate to that?
You mean in terms of the Jewish culture? I would say that over the years that Chanukah has become more prevalent and celebrated, particularly in America, because it bumps up against the Christian holiday. For Jews in America, often on Christmas Day, because everything’s closed, our tradition is usually “eat Chinese and go to the movies.” When Chanukah is on top of that, it’s a great time to get together with the family, eat latkes, potato pancakes, because they’re fried in oil—it’s reminiscent of that oil that was the miracle that lasted longer than it normally would have. People come together. Children are sometimes given gifts. We play dreidel; it’s a game with a little spinning top. Also gelt, which is typically chocolate covered with gold foil—good things to eat, a little bit of chocolate. So yeah, it’s a great holiday and a time for family and friends to come together.
Is there anything else that our readers should know about you or about Chanukah?
It’s a fabulous holiday. … Jews doing Jewish practice is a great thing. Even though it’s a minor holiday—our more major holidays tend to be things like Passover; Rosh Hashanah, the new year; even Shavuot, the giving of Torah—the fact that Jews are celebrating Chanukah is a great thing.