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Memories, thankfulness are focus of Hanukkah

TAMPA — Linda Blum loved menorahs. She displayed 22 of them year-round in her kitchen.

Each year, she cooked a traditional dinner for the family's Hanukkah gathering, and each year she decorated her house, inside and out.

"She was the ultimate Hanukkah person," her husband, Sam Blum, said.

Mrs. Blum passed away on Nov. 30 at age 65, leaving behind a husband of 46 years, four children and seven grandchildren. But Sam Blum of Tampa plans to carry on the traditions in honor of his wife.

Hanukkah, which began at sundown Friday, is the eight-day Jewish holiday that commemorates the rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem after the Maccabees defeated the Syrian army in a second-century revolt.

Instead of celebrating the military victory, many Jews focus on the miracles associated with the rededication of the Temple, during which religious leaders found only enough undefiled oil to burn in the menorah for one day.

Miraculously, says tradition, the oil burned for eight days.

These days, families celebrate Hanukkah in different ways. Some people light a candle in the menorah each night, paying tribute to the miracle of the oil in the Temple. Others give gifts, play with dreidels and eat traditional fried foods, such as latkes.

"The letters on the side of the dreidel stand for a Hebrew phrase that means a 'great miracle happened there,' " said St. Petersburg's Temple Beth-El Rabbi Michael Torop. "So there's definitely a sense that Hanukkah is a festival that celebrates miraculous events."

Although Hanukkah is not a major religious holiday, it has become well-known because of its proximity to Christmas. As such, many parents give presents to their young children.

Like the Blums, the Davidson family in Tampa recently has experienced hardship. Still, they also plan to give thanks at Hanukkah.

Earlier this year, Avi Davidson was electrocuted while climbing a TECO power pole. The teen fell about four stories and has been in the hospital since Oct. 1. His legs are paralyzed and his hand had to be amputated, his mother, Lea Merrill Davidson-Bern said.

The family has decorated his room at Tampa General Hospital for Hanukkah.

"The celebration continues, the miracles continue, we go on," Davidson-Bern said.

They plan to keep up their traditions, including reading stories under Hanukkah quilts.

"It makes a big difference, I think, knowing that in a world with so much uncertainty, the Hanukkah quilts are coming out and the stories are going to be read," Davidson-Bern said.

In the Blum family, the adults have one new tradition. Instead of exchanging gifts, they're each making donations to the Linda Blum Scholarship Fund at their synagogue, Rodeph Sholom in South Tampa, and the Bakas Equestrian Center, the Hillsborough County facility that offers free horseback rides to the handicapped.

"Linda was very involved," Sam Blum said. "It's such a wonderful program."

Jessica Vander Velde can be reached at jvandervelde@sptimes.com or (813) 661-2443.

Memories, thankfulness are focus of Hanukkah 12/11/09 [Last modified: Saturday, December 12, 2009 12:17am]
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