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Hanukkah celebration begins

December 05, 1996

By ELLEN LYON

Staff Writer

BOONSBORO - At sundown Thursday 9-year-old Daniel Schlossberg recited a blessing in Hebrew as he lit a candle in the menorah to celebrate the first of Hanukkah's eight nights.

"Praise be thou, O Lord our God, king of the universe, who has commanded us to kindle the Hanukkah lights," Daniel prayed as his sister Becca, 14, brother Aaron, 11, parents, Roger and Lynn Schlossberg, and three of the family's five dogs gathered around the menorah in their home outside Boonsboro.

Then Lynn Schlossberg served up a holiday specialty - potato pancakes called latkes - and applesauce.

Just about every Hanukkah tradition exhorts Jews to remember and celebrate the survival of their ancient and often imperiled religion.

Hanukkah, known as the feast of dedication, refers to an historical event.

In 165 B.C.E., after a three-year war during which the Syrians tried to force the Jews to worship idols, the Jews prevailed, regained control of their temple in Jerusalem and rededicated it.

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However, they found only enough oil to light the holy lamps for one night. Instead the oil lasted eight nights.

"Hanukkah really celebrates the miracle that happened. The holiday is all about the hardships we had to go through to worship the way we want," Becca explained.

It is one of her favorite holidays, she said. "I like the food a lot. I like the tradition. It's just a really neat story."

Latkes are fried in oil to symbolize the holiday, Lynn Schlossberg said.

"In Israel, they actually eat jelly doughnuts (on Hanukkah), the doughnuts being fried," she said.

The menorah's eight candles represent the eight nights the oil lasted. Another candle, called the shamas, is used to light the Hanukkah candles.

In the Schlossberg home the children take turns lighting the candles. The candle lighter gets to pull a present out of one of eight boxes in a cardboard frame titled the Eight Nights of Hanukkah.

Family members also exchange gifts each night.

The Schlossberg's menorah is made of clay figurines. "That's symbolic of a family," Lynn Schlossberg said.

At Hanukkah children spin tops called dreidls, with Hebrew letters on each side.

Each letter represents one of the words in the expression "a great miracle happened there," Lynn Schlossberg said.

In Israel the lettering is changed to say "a great miracle happened here," she said.

The dreidl dates back to a time when the ancient Greeks did not allow the Jews to study Hebrew, Lynn Schlossberg said.

Jews who studied Hebrew anyway would spin the dreidl as a diversionary tactic when Greeks happened by, she said.

On Hanukkah children also receive chocolate coins wrapped in gold paper - called gelt.

The Schlossberg children said they are often the only Jews in their classes at school so they get questions about the holiday.

"The school's been wonderful letting us come in and do Hanukkah parties," Lynn Schlossberg said. "It's gotten so a lot of kids would like to celebrate Hanukkah."

Becca said all the fuss over Christmas doesn't tempt her.

"The holiday that we celebrate is a lot more meaningful to me," she said.

Hanukkah is actually one of the more minor Jewish holidays that has received increased attention in recent years, Roger Schlossberg said.

But it's offensive when people refer to it as the "Jewish Christmas," he said.

Hanukkah does, however, seem to share one thing in common with that Christian holiday.

"It's become far more commercialized," Roger Schlossberg said.

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