SPRING HILL — At sundown on Sunday, Jews will begin their eight-day celebration of Hanukkah.
The holiday commemorates a miracle recorded in Jewish history in 164 B.C. at the rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem after it had been desecrated by Syrian rulers. In the walls of the temple was found a small cruse of oil, which ultimately provided enough oil to light the holy lights in the temple for eight days, until more oil became available.
Temple Beth David in Spring Hill began its celebration of the holiday with a Hanukkah party last weekend.
Guests were children from the Hernando Suzuki violin group, directed by Ruth Brown, said Marilyn Rosenzweig, principal of the temple's religious school.
"The children, ages 2 through teens, entertained our congregants with a variety of numbers, including some especially for our Hanukkah celebration," Rosenzweig said.
The congregation also had a Hanukkah Shabbat dinner Friday evening, followed by a special service presented by the children from the school.
The older children said prayers in Hebrew while the younger children acted out a story that illustrated the meaning of the menorah, or candleholder.
"The menorah has nine candles — eight candles representing the eight nights of Hanukkah and one taller candle, the Shamas, that lights all the rest," Rosenzweig explained.
In Jewish homes, candles will be lit each night during the holiday.
"By lighting one candle each night, the children get an idea of how long it took for that oil to burn originally," Rosenzweig said.
Rosenzweig recalled how Hanukkah was celebrated during her own childhood.
"When I was a child, our celebration of Hanukkah was filled with warmth, love and family," she said. "We always celebrated at my grandmother's home. My grandfather was the one to light the Hanukkah menorah. My family would always gather around to hear Poppy recite Hanukkah prayers."
Rosenzweig's grandmother would be in the kitchen "filling the air with the scrumptious aroma of potato latkes."
"She showered us with love through her kitchen," Rosenzweig said.
Latkes (potato pancakes) have become a Jewish tradition symbolizing the oil that burned in the temple.
"Sometimes people buy doughnuts and use those as a symbol of the oil," Rosenzweig said.
Another tradition in her grandparents' home was playing with a dreidel.
"A dreidel is a top with four different Hebrew letters on it," Rosenzweig said. "Everyone puts a candy in the center to start, like poker. You spin the dreidel. If it lands on N, which is nun, you don't take anything out. If you get a gimmel, which is like a G, you take everything in the pot. If it lands on hay, you take half the pot. If it lands on shin, you must put one into the pot. My cousins and I would play with a dreidel or two while dinner was being prepared."
The candy used to play the game is called gelt, which in Rosenzweig's youth were chocolate coins.
"Poppy gave the children some gelt," Rosenzweig said. "The coins had Jewish symbols on them to represent Hanukkah. Poppy would give us pennies as well to play the game."
To Rosenzweig, celebrating freedom is an important part Hanukkah.
"Judah and the Macabees fought for and won our religious freedom because we were told that we weren't able to pray at that time," Rosenzweig said.
"Grandma left her homeland in Poland in 1913 and came to America to escape the Jewish persecution of her day. She was fortunate to meet my grandfather, who was born right here in America, in New York City," Rosenzweig said. "Grandma always reminded us of how lucky she was to come to America, a place where she didn't need to hide her Judaism. She also took great pride in her family."
Rosenzweig, now a grandmother herself, said children today know a different Hanukkah.
"They may have dreidels, menorahs, latkes and songs, but gifts have become quite important," she said. "Our mass media introduces all of us to so many innovative items that we have difficulty resisting the enticement. Hanukkah costs a lot more than the few pennies that meant so much to us so many years ago.
"Ours was a celebration of togetherness and love," Rosenzweig said, "love that could only have been experienced in a home that celebrated freedom."