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dec 13 hanukkah families

December 10, 1998

HanukkahBy Meg H. Partington / Staff Writer

photo: YVETTE MAY / staff photographer




The close proximity of Hanukkah and Christmas on the calendar could create a sense of competition, but some Jewish residents in the Tri-State area would rather the two holidays just quietly coexist.

Debra Schepp of Middletown, Md., grew up in a predominantly Jewish community in New Jersey, but became familiar with Christmas through her Christian friends.

[cont. from lifestyle]

"As a child, I believed in Santa Claus. I just knew he didn't come to my house," says Schepp.

She recalled a time years ago when she took her daughter Stephanie, now 13, to see Santa while they were living in New Jersey. When her daughter told him that he wouldn't have to stop by her house because she was Jewish, he told her that his mother was Jewish. That delighted her daughter, she says, because she figured if Santa's mother was Jewish, he must be, too.

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"It's very important to have a sense of humor," Schepp says.

She and her husband have raised their daughter and 10-year-old son, Ethan, in the Jewish faith and have taught them an important lesson: "We're not Jewish just in the month of December. We lead a Jewish life every day," Schepp says.

They also have made a point of not making Hanukkah seem equivalent to Christmas.

"It doesn't compare at all to Christmas," says Schepp.

Hanukkah celebrates religious freedom, Schepp says. If followers of Judaism copied the holidays of other religions, that freedom would be lost, she says.

Schepp's family enjoys joining in Christmas celebrations with their Christian friends and invites them to join in the joy they feel during Hanukkah. "It's nice to be able to share that feeling with our Christian friends," she says.

During the eight days of Hanukkah, the Schepps eat potato latkes and keep their evenings free so they can be together. They play with a dreidel - a four-sided toy spun like a top - or engage in a game of cards.

Hilde Shapiro of Waynesboro, Pa., says she and her husband, Jacob, get together with their son and his family, who live nearby, and share in gift-giving and games. They indulge in potato latkes and applesauce, and their two local grandchildren, both teenagers, still receive Hanukkah gelt, or chocolate money.

When her grandchildren were younger, Hilde Shapiro recalls them asking questions about why their celebrations weren't like Christmas, with its showering of presents.

"If you make Hanukkah interesting and pleasant for them, I think they understand," she says. "You have to explain to the children."

There are times when living amid the hub of Christmas is difficult, Schepp admits.

"Sometimes it does seem like the whole world is having a party, and we're not invited," Schepp says.

Mike Elins of Martinsburg, W.Va., says he has grown used to Hanukkah not receiving as much recognition as Christmas because there is not a large Jewish population in this area.

"Frankly, it's the way it's always been," Elins says. "There never has been a big concern communitywide that Jews are here."

Elins says he gets frustrated when he sees Christmas trees but no menorahs displayed in government buildings, and when he sees signs in business windows wishing passersby a happy Easter, but there's no mention of Passover. He was pleased, however, to learn that the Martinsburg-Berkeley County Public Library was including menorahs in its holiday display this year.

Barbara Weiss of Hagerstown grew up in an area near Baltimore that was largely populated by Jewish people, but "We were always very much aware of Christmas," she says.

Weiss recalled that when her sons - now 14 and 12 - were younger people often asked if they were excited about Christmas. "They automatically assume that everyone celebrates Christmas," she says.

Weiss says she feels no pressure to give loads of presents to her family to keep up with the gift-giving spirit of Christmas.

"We celebrate in our own way. I don't feel the need to compete," she says.

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