Beginning tonight, there are lights at Kevin and Sam Goldberg’s house, lots of them.
The house and trees are bedecked in glowing blue and silvery white. In many of the windows sits a menorah, a nine-branch candelabra, which is the traditional Jewish symbol of the eight-day Festival of Lights, known as Chanukah.
The Goldbergs are a rarity in Salmon Arm, celebrating the Jewish faith instead of the traditional Christmas embraced by the vast majority of local residents.
The couple and their three children, Eva, 5, and nearly three-year-old twins Eden and Lily, understand their traditions set them apart. When the children are out shopping with their mother, they often get asked about Santa.
“They know to say they we don’t celebrate Christmas, that they celebrate Chanukah. They point out that Christmas is only one day, but Chanukah is eight,” says Sam, who converted to Judaism when she married her husband. The couple is originally from South Africa, where their faith is more common than here, where they can count the other Jewish people they know in Salmon Arm on one hand.
“It’s difficult sometimes to find the things we need here for our festivals, so we order from Vancouver or other places or we improvise,” laughs Sam, recounting how she once tried to use birthday candles on the menorah and all her young children started singing Happy Birthday.
“I won’t do that again,” she says smiling.
Sam recently gave a talk for Eva’s class at Bastion Elementary to explain some of their traditions. She speaks of how Chanukah is a holiday to celebrate miracles and a prominent theme is “Never lose hope.”
“I tried to keep it simple for the children and explain that a long time ago the Jewish people fought a war for the right to practise their religion. Even though they were outnumbered, they won and then came to clean up their temple. The people only found enough oil left to light their menorah for one night, and yet somehow it burned for eight days. This is the miracle of Chanukah and why we light the candles,” Sam says, noting the history behind this is much more detailed and complex. “This is the basic version.”
In addition to lighting the menorah at sundown, each candle is lit with a prayer spoken in Hebrew. The menorah is placed in a window, so others looking in may see and recognize the miracle of the lights.
The candles are lit, one each night from right to left by using the flame from a higher candle called the shamash.
The family also celebrates by exchanging gifts each night and eating foods fried in oil, like latkes, which are a potato pancake, and special doughnuts. These foods symbolize the oil that lit the candles in the temple.
Sam wanted to make an effort to explain some of the Jewish traditions to others who may not be familiar.
“I think it is important to learn about other cultures, so you can learn to respect other people’s beliefs,” says Sam. “We can’t understand what we don’t know.”
Chanukah: (also spelled Hanukkah) is the Festival of Lights for the Jewish people. It is observed for eight days beginning on the evening of the 25th day of the Hebrew month of Kislev. This can range from early to late December, with this year’s celebration starting Dec. 21 until Dec. 28.
Menorah: a nine-branch candelabra. On each night one more candle is lit beginning with one on the first night and adding one until the eighth night. The ninth branch is called the shamash, which is lit first and used to kindle the other lights of the menorah.
Dreidel: a four-sided spinning top, used to play a lively game. There are Hebrew letters on the four sides, representing the message: A Great Miracle Happened There. In ancient times, the Syrian-Greeks decreed that studying the Torah was a crime punishable by death. Children studied in secret, but when police patrols were spotted, they would pretend to be playing a game of dreidel.