LAURINBURG – Tuesday marked the first night of Hanukkah for Jewish families across the world, but one Laurinburg family celebrates with a personalized twist.
Ann and Andy Kutzman have a collection of menorahs that Andy began accumulating when he was in college. Each year the couple choose one menorah to light the ceremonial candles as part of the eight day celebration of light.
Chanukah — the traditional spelling — means dedication in Hebrew. The name was given to the eight day celebration because it recognizes the rededication of the holy temple of God after it was overrun and desecrated by Syrian-Greek invaders who set up pagan worship there after they took over Israel. The priest, Judah Maccabee, led a revolt, freed the kingdom and led an effort to reclaim the temple. When the temple’s lamps were to be lit, priests found they only had enough oil to last for one day, the oil miraculously lasted for eight days until new oil could be made and purified.
Since then, Hanukkah has been celebrated as a reminder of the power of miracles, the power of light and rededication.
Andy Kutzman, executive director of the Scotland Community health Clinic, also sees it as a celebration of religious freedom and believes that idea can help non-Jews have a greater understanding of the holiday.
“If they would consider that Chanukah is a holiday about the pursuit of religious freedom and continuation of Jewish traditions after the Jewish temple was destroyed by the Syrians that would be a simple understanding,” Andy Kurtzman said.
A menorah is an eight- branched candelabra. Each night one candle is lit to mark the eight days of the miracle oil. Prayers or blessings are said and sometimes traditional songs are sung. Lighted menorahs are traditionally placed in a window or doorway.
Andy Kurtzam began his collection when he was looking to keep the Hanukkah traditions while he was attending George Washington University.
“I started in college when I found I did not have a menorah to light. I think I probably found it in a Judaica shop or at a temple,” he said.
His collection is small but unique including a gothic styled one and two that he made.
“I only have 6. Also I have 2 electric ones – one used by my parents that I saved from their house,” he said. “They all mean something to me. Now I date the years I use each one so I can rotate them.”
Over the years he has picked them up at Synagogue shops, and even yard sales.
Ann Kurtzman, who recently retired as clerk to the Scotland County Board of Commissioners, was amazed to find a menorah at a local yard sale.
Kutrzman jokes that he doesn’t light all six at once because doing so would be flirting with disaster because he has two cats.
Like any holiday, families have created their own Hanukkah traditions over the centuries beyond lighting the menorah candles. Some have kept to menorah lighting and prayers while others have added the giving of gifts, playing games and giving money of candy. Growing up Kurtzman’s family embraced gift giving.
“We always lit the Hanukah candles, adding one each night. Then we got our presents – usually one a night − until we got older. Gifts could be anything – small or big,” he said.
Andy Kurtzman still carries on the tradition of the candles and prayers because of the example his parents set. The Hallel − daily prayer recitation of Psalms 113 to 118 and a V’Al HaNissim or prayers of gratitude are usually recited to thank God for “delivering the strong into the hands of the weak, the many into the hands of the few … the wicked into the hands of the righteous,” according to chabad.org
“I think a lot of my Jewish friends still celebrate the holiday by observing it, lighting candles, saying the blessings over the candles. I make it a point to also because that’s what my parents did,” he said and suggested a way to keep it traditional. “I think you have to recognize that it is a holiday − not a major Jewish holiday− and celebrate in in some special way. Frankly I think the candles and blessings are nice. There are also some nice traditional songs.”
However the Kurtzmans’ gift giving has evolved since their daughters are now adults. They send them Hanukkah gelt.
According to some scholars, the practice of giving gifts during the celebration evolved out of the practice of giving gelt, or money, to children. Later gifts were given and gelt became chocolate coins.
Kurtzman now sends his adult daughters what nearly every young woman wants − the traditional monetary form of gelt.
Another tradition Kurtzman appreciates is that of eating fried foods. Fried foods are a preferred part of the celebration because frying involves oil and Hanukkah is that miracle of the oil. One Hanukkah favorite is the latke, or potato pancake, that can be served with sour cream or applesauce.
A traditional Hanukkah game is playing with a dreidel. A dreidel is a four-sided top with the Hebrew letters, nun, gimmel, hei and shin, the letters represent the phrase, nes gadol hayah sham, “a great miracle happened there.” Players have to ante up with small tokens and the winner is awarded the prize based on which letter the dreidel lands on.
“I think maybe once in my life we played it the way it was supposed to be played. Other times we’d make a game our own games or see how long it could spin. We might have even tried holding our breath,” Kurtzman recalled of playing the game as a child.
Chabad.org suggests taking the following lessons from the celebration:
− Never be afraid to stand up for what’s right. Judah Maccabee and his band faced daunting odds, but that didn’t stop them.
− Always increase in matters of goodness and Torah-observance. Sure, a single flame was good enough for yesterday, but today needs to be even better.
− A little light goes a long way. The Chanukah candles are lit when dusk is falling…they serve as a beacon for the darkening streets. No matter how dark it is outside, a candle of Godly goodness can transform the darkness itself into light.
− Take it to the streets. Chanukah is unique in that its primary mitzvahs, or moral deeds, are observed in public. Chanukah teaches us to shine outwards into our surroundings with the Godly glow of mitzvahs.
− Don’t be ashamed to perform mitzvahs, even if you will feel different. Rather, be like a menorah, proudly proclaiming its radiant uniqueness for all to see.
Kurtzman sums up the holiday by saying that it is about warmth, light and family.
“I think the holiday is a small eight day break from the daily routine in December when it’s cold and dark. There’s a family warmth and togetherness that seems to be caught in the glow of the candles, the joy of presents or just being thought of with a card, and the remembrance of the Jewish traditions that go along with the holiday [like] potato latkes, spinning the dreidel, lighting the candles, and having fun with gifts for each night, if you feel challenged to do so,” he said.
Reach Beth Lawrence 910-506-3169