Spreading Goodness during Hannukah

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Shea Shapiro, of Fairfield, puts some muscle into it as he helps Rabbi Shlame Landa, of Chabad of Fairfield, to press olives during an olive oil making demonstration Sunday at the Jewish Community Center of Eastern Fairfield County in Bridgeport. (Brian A. Pounds/Staff photographer)

Sunday, December 21, 2008

By Amanda Cuda

The Jewish holiday of Hanukkah is often called the Festival of Lights.

That moniker doesn't just refer to the menorah, the eight-branched candelabrum that is lit during the eight days of Hanukkah said Rabbi Shlame Landa, of Chabad of Fairfield, a Jewish educational organization.

The "light" of Hanukkah, which starts today, is also metaphorical, Landa said. It represents goodness, and the triumph of goodness over evil. No matter what your religion, Landa said, that's a concept everyone can understand, particularly in these difficult times.

"Hanukkah is a Jewish holiday, but its message is universal — a little bit of light can push away the darkness," he said. "The message is that goodness will always prevail."

The holiday commemorates the military victory of a band Jewish loyalists, known as the Maccabees, over the Greek Syrians, who prohibited Jewish religious freedom.

As part of their victory, the Maccabees reclaimed and rededicated the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. When they went to light the temple's menorah, they found that the Greeks had defiled all of the olive oil used to light it, save one small container, which carried enough oil to burn for one day.
Miraculously, the oil burned for eight days, which is why the menorahs lit during Hanukkah have eight candles, not including the shamash candle used to light the others, and why the holiday lasts for eight days.

To pay tribute to the events of the first Hanukkah, Chabad ofFairfield hosted a family olive oil demonstration last week, during which local children and their families pressed olives by hand, just as they had at the time of the first Hanukkah. Landa said this is the second year Chabad of Fairfield has held the demonstration.

Not only is it a fun holiday activity, Landa said, but it helps remind people of the history of Hanukkah, and its central themes of the importance of religious independence and triumph of good over evil. "The olive oil really represents the light in the world," he said.

Rabbi James Prosnit, of Congregation B'Nai Israel in Bridgeport, also stressed the symbolic importance of light in Hanukkah.
In the early days of the holiday, Prosnit said, there was some debate over how to light the Menorah. Some preferred to light all the candles the first day, lighting fewer candles on each day of Hanukkah. Others preferred the opposite method of lighting just one candle the first day, with more on each subsequent day.

The latter method was eventually chosen as the popular tradition. Prosnit said that way makes more sense, particularly since Hanukkah occurs during winter, the darkest time of year. This year, he said, there's also a lot of metaphorical darkness, particularly with the nation's troubled financial state. In this economic climate, Prosnit said, he hopes people can take comfort in Hanukkah's message of light and hope.

"You light a candle to curse the darkness," he said. With so much anxiety in the world right now, Prosnit said, "it's a nice little message to have faith and light a candle."

Here are some Hanukkah events happening in the region:
n Congregation B'nai Torah, 5700 Main St., Trumbull, will have its family Hanukkah party at 5 p.m. today. Bring your menorahs for an evening filled with dinner, music, dancing and candle lighting. The cost is $10 per person for adults; $5 for children. For details, call 268-6940.

There will be a menorah lighting between the first and second period of the Bridgeport Sound Tigers game, tonight at the Arena at Harbor Yard. The event is a collaboration of the Sound Tigers and Chabad of Fairfield. For details, call 373-1118 or e-mail info@ChabadFF.com.

The Jewish Community Center of Eastern Fairfield County, 4200 Park Ave., Bridgeport, will hold its annual menorah lighting ceremony 5 p.m. Monday. For details, contact Laurie Gross at 372-6567, ext. 172 or Lauriegross@jccs.org.

On Thursday, the Jewish Community Center will host "Chanukah Family Fun Day" from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. The program is open to everyone. For details, contact Vivian Rockmacher at 372-6567, ext. 127 or Vivian127@jccs.org.