SPRING HILL — For the second year, the congregation of Temple Beth David will celebrate the eighth night of Hanukkah on Dec. 15 with a "Night of 100 Menorahs."
"It's something we started last year," Rabbi Lenny Sarko said. "A lot of places light one big menorah, but we came up with the idea that it would be nice if every family can light their own menorah, and we do it all at the same time."
During the previous seven nights, Jewish people throughout the world will light menorahs in their homes. There are nine candles on each lamp. On the first night of Hanukkah and on all other nights during the holiday, the middle candle — called the Shamash — is lit first. The Shamash does not count as one of the Hanukkah candles, but is used to light all the others. One additional candle is added and lit each night until the final night, when all eight are in place and lit. Prayers and blessings are also said during the ceremony.
On Dec. 15, the congregation, along with family and friends, will bring their personal menorahs to the temple on Antelope Street so the community can light them collectively. The evening will begin with Havdalah, a ceremony to end Shabbat, the Sabbath. Then, they will share a traditional dinner, and be entertained by a concert by the choir and a program by the pre-K religious school class.
"It's a really neat and fun night," Sarko said. "When you turn off the lights and you see the candles that are lit, and we do some songs and prayers with it, it's just really a very moving experience. It's very beautiful."
Part of the evening will focus on the retelling of the history of the Maccabean Revolt, which took place in the mid second century BC.
"That entire story and what the holiday is about is religious freedom," Sarko said. The 25-year revolt was led by the Jews against the Seleucid king, Antiochus IV Epiphanes, who had looted and profaned the Jewish temple in Jerusalem.
"Judaism was outlawed in that period of time by Antiochus for a number of reasons," Sarko said. "You would have been put to death if you were caught practicing Judaism, so a revolt occurred."
The fight was the first one recorded over an ideal, Sarko said.
"Antiochus had the land, he had Jerusalem, he had the big cities, so this was confusing to him and his armies, because the people kept fighting," he said. "They were fighting for an ideal."
The reason for celebration is that the Maccabees won the revolt and took back their temple.
"The word Hanukkah means dedication," Sarko said. "When they won the war, they ended up cleaning out the temple and rededicating it. The menorah is that symbol."
Sarko said an important part of the holiday, and all Jewish holidays, is that everybody gets to participate.
"It's not like sitting there and watching TV or somebody doing something on a stage," he said. "This is an active participatory community. So when we say come to Hanukkah, everybody participates in that Hanukkah."
David Hoffman, president of the temple board, also thinks Hanukkah should be a time of coming together by the Jewish community in order to stay in touch with the core Jewish values.
"I believe the answer is to support, strengthen and participate in our Jewish institutions," Hoffman wrote in an article for the temple's December newsletter. "In our little corner of the world on the beautiful Nature Coast, that is Temple Beth David."
The synagogue is the center of Jewish communal life, he said.
"In the synagogue, we pray, we learn and understand what it means to be a Jew, we teach our young and we celebrate life cycle events — births, bar and bat mitzvahs, weddings, various simchas (celebrations) and ultimately death. … We need strong homes filled with Jewish values and we need to build a community where our children and grandchildren feel proud."
Coming to the Hanukkah service is part of that.
"Why do we celebrate Hanukkah?" Hoffman asks. "I think we do so because the festival of lights gives us an opportunity to reaffirm our commitment of Judaism, to figure out how to be Jewish in an overwhelmingly non-Jewish society."
Hoffman has some advice for his fellow members.
"As you light the menorah on Hanukkah, think about the question of how far we can thrive in a non-Jewish world without giving up our Judaism," he said. "Reflect on that question, which faced Jews for more than two thousand years. … (Come) and celebrate and reinforce our Jewish traditions."