CHAPEL HILL, NC — One of 10 public menorahs — and perhaps the most unique — between Durham and Chapel Hill was kindled Tuesday, the first night of Hanukkah, at the Lerner Jewish Day School in Durham.
Chabad of Durham and Chapel Hill lights a 9-foot ice menorah at different locations each year and this year chose the Lerner school.
Other public menorahs are on display at Duke, UNC, Duke Medical Center, on Franklin Street in Chapel Hill and along U.S. 15-501 between Chapel Hill and Durham. Rabbi Zalman Bluming of the local Chabad said Hanukkah encourages people to show the values, beliefs and traditions of their home lives outside the home as well.
“Hanukkah teaches us that Judaism is a celebration of life,” Bluming said.
Last year the local Chabad — a branch of Hasidic Judaism and a movement that promotes wisdom, comprehension and knowledge — held its ice menorah lighting on UNC’s campus. The local Chabad serves both UNC Chapel Hill and Duke University students.
The local Chabad chose the children’s school this year, Bluming said, because the root of the word Hanukkah means education.
“You don’t begin education when you have eight full candles. You begin at birth. What am I kindling in this cherished soul?” he said.
At the Lerner school, children received “gelt” — a Yiddish word meaning money, or chocolate coins wrapped in foil in this case — and colored pictures of dreidels as they waited for Ice Occasions to finish cutting blocks of ice to create the menorah.
Chapel Hill Mayor Kevin Foy and Durham-Chapel Hill Jewish Federation leader Orit Ramler welcomed the crowd and spoke about celebrating Hanukkah as a community. Bluming presented Foy with a menorah. Earlier in the day, he did the same for Durham Mayor Bill Bell.
Bluming and Lerner supporter Bob Gutman lit the first menorah flame together, then people sang, danced and ate. As children danced nearby, Gutman said that getting a child involved in religion is the only way to get an adult involved. For children, it’s more of a feeling than an understanding, he said.
“Hanukkah celebrates renewal, it celebrates a miracle, it celebrates the ability to come back. And it’s a nice holiday for the kids,” Gutman said.
Each of the eight candles on a menorah celebrates the miracle of a one-night supply of oil that burned for eight nights in the Temple of Jerusalem after it had been desecrated and later rededicated in 165 B.C. A ninth, taller candle is used to light the other candles. Some menorahs use candles, others oil. Traditional Hanukkah food — like potato latkes — are cooked in oil.
Morry and Susan Spitzer of Chapel Hill, who attended Tuesday night’s ceremony, have accumulated 20 menorahs over the years from relatives and their own childhoods. They used to light them all, but after the third or fourth night, smoke detectors started going off, Morry Spitzer said. So they now light only the most significant ones. An electric menorah is displayed in their window.
Inside is the sterling silver menorah that the couple bought when they were first married. They really couldn’t afford it, but scraped together enough money to buy it on trip to New York City. They also have a menorah Morry Spitzer got on a trip to Israel as a teenager.
Hanukkah is a minor Jewish holiday compared to Passover or Yom Kippur. Hanukkah is the fun holiday, Susan Spitzer said, while for more religious, observant and traditional Jews, other holidays have more significance.
“This time of year, there’s a lot of Christmas energy and it’s nice and it’s beautiful, but a lot of times Jews feel left out. It’s nice we have a holiday around this time of year,” she said.
Bob Schwartz wore a “Happy Challah Days” sweatshirt and hat of a blue plush menorah to the kindling. He said the minor holiday has been more elevated than it should be. It’s not the Jewish Christmas, he said. Marle Schwartz said it has evolved into a competition with Christmas, although that is not what the holiday really is.
“It’s a joyous time to celebrate the victories of the Jewish people,” she said.
Bluming told the celebrants about a game his grandfather played with him as a little boy at Hanukkah. Bluming’s grandfather told him to find oil hidden around the house. Bluming searched everywhere and could not find it. When he told his grandfather, his grandfather took him into the library and showed him Jewish texts.
“When Jewish people search for oil — search for light — this is where they find it. When you study them, you see the eternal flame of the Jewish people,” his grandfather told him.
Bluming said Hanukkah is the celebration of the oil, not winning the battle to recapture the temple. Judaism says it is not only about being victorious, but about what you do with that victory, he said.